Autonomous car cyber security consortium awarded funding

An autonomous car cyber security group will receive government funding as part of a plan to make the UK a hub for the development of self-driving cars, it has been announced.

The 5*Stars consortium, which incorporates HORIBA MIRA, Ricardo, Thatcham Research, Roke and Axillium Research, will get grants to develop defences against cyber attacks on autonomous cars as concern grows about the security of the ever more advanced technologies in the car industry.

Funding comes from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, which operates under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The consortium put forward a case for funding, which culminates in introducing a system of star ratings for the security of autonomous cars against cyber attacks, similar to Euro NCAP’s ratings for the crash safety of cars.

Business and energy secretary Greg Clark announced the consortium’s winning bid, although it has not been disclosed how much funding the group will receive. The news follows the recent announcement that the department has set aside £100 million for investment in autonomous vehicle testing infrastructure.

Clark said: “By 2035 the global market for connected and autonomous vehicle technologies is predicted to be worth £63 billion. Our investment and collaboration with industry to build on our strengths and create a cluster of excellence will ensure we are at the forefront of its development and perfectly positioned to lead and capitalise on this market.”

How important is it that autonomous cars are protected from cyber threats?

“Connected vehicles take us toward a mode of transport that is safer and more efficient, by enabling an interconnected driving experience. Vehicles will be connected to each other as well as their surrounding infrastructure (such as traffic lights), so for safety reasons it is important that the vehicle knows that the messages it is receiving are genuine.

There is also a risk the criminals could hack in to a vehicle to start the engine or that they might hold a car to ransom until the owner pays to be able to assess their vehicle.”

How at risk are autonomous cars from hacking?

“The importance of identifying potential ‘vulnerabilities’ – flaws in a connected car’s communications and data systems that could be exploited by somebody seeking to ‘hack’ into that vehicle’s control mechanisms or other on-board technology – and protecting such vehicles against interference or attack, has stepped up in the past five years, as online menaces have become potentially more hazardous – and more penetrative.

Some users are becoming accustomed to the practice of protecting their ‘endpoint devices’; but nowadays the very communications infrastructures that form the backbone of our hard-wired and wireless networks regularly come under attack. This has created yet another field of battle to be defended, as national Internet exchanges, for instance, and the internetworking equipment they rely on – such as switches and routers – are maliciously probed.

One of the challenges we have at the moment in making connected vehicles secure is that we are trying to secure legacy systems. Fully autonomous vehicles are being designed from scratch, allowing cyber security to be considered at the initial stages of the design process.”

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