Come On Baby Drive My Car

I drive a very old car. In fact, it has a 21st  birthday soon. Partly, this was all I could afford but also I thought as an old car it might soon even start to appreciate. However, there are days when I would love to have a brand-new car with all the fancy new gizmos.

I would love to try automatic parking. I can reverse accurately but my car is never as close to the kerb as I want but better I imagine the day when I can sit in my car reading a book or admiring the scenery while racing down the motorway. I want an autonomous, self-driving car.

We all know that the technology is nearly there and have seen videos of Uber taxis driving autonomously.  It is close.

Now hold that thought while I turn the clock back a year and we remember the chaos caused when a hacker, an individual or State, temporarily brought the West to a halt. In the UK the National Health Service nearly stopped. Appointments were cancelled as records were scrambled.

Today I read that hackers are threatening the Champions League football final in Kiev. According to Ukrainian state security, The Russian government is preparing an enormous cyber-attack targeting the game on Saturday.

Sky News reports: Talos Intelligence – the security arm of computer networking firm Cisco, which detected the attack – said it was releasing the information before their investigations are complete because of the urgency in preventing the attack.

Cisco has warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 internet routers and storage devices with sophisticated state-developed malware in dozens of countries, with a focus on Ukraine.

In a statement, the Ukrainian security service said its experts “believe that the infection of hardware on the territory of Ukraine is preparation for another act of cyber aggression by the Russian Federation, aimed at destabilising the situation during the Champions League final.”

For the moment I don’t care if that is true. The point I am trying to make is that the smartest of the hackers are a smart bunch. Don’t just imagine an anti-social 16-year-old sitting in his bedroom hacking into the CIA and FBI but add criminal gangs whose motives are far more nefarious.

Let’s bring these thoughts together. We have autonomous cars controlled by sophisticated IT and we have hackers and other bad guys. It sounds like a geeks playground, and so it is.

This just happens to be the latest of news items from the BBC. According to a study by a Chinese cyber-security lab, BMW’s car computer systems have been found to contain 14 separate flaws which, in theory at least, could let hackers take at least partial control of affected vehicles while in use.

You will be pleased to know that they are sharing their findings with BMW who is working on fixes.

An autonomous car needs to communicate with the outside world. It takes in GPS signals and depending on how the system works may communicate with other cars. It has Bluetooth and other communication technologies. It is very ‘hackable’.

We have used the incredible power of technology and expanded its inter-connectivity. The ‘internet of things’ means that our fridge can reorder our eggs directly from Sainsbury’s without us knowing.

But, we pay lip service to internet threats and assume that up to date AVG or McAfee will protect us from everything. It’s not true. Basic design flaws lead to vulnerabilities.

I don’t mind an extra dozen eggs arriving but I need to know that BMW, Tesla and every other car manufacturer is doing more than their best as they design autonomous cars.

I don’t want to be driving, if that is still the right word, watching the scenery and find that my car has decided to take me to Warrington instead of Wycombe.  Or worse, read that some hacking, deranged, high school teenager decides that a managed pile-up on the motorway better meets his needs than wielding a Kalashnikov around his classmates.