Driverless cars are a go! Govt. green lights project to hit the roads by 2021 despite security fears

The government is intent on bringing driverless cars to Britain's roads in the next four years, even though concerns remain on how secure such cars will be from malicious actors.

The arrival of driverless cars in the UK may signify a major leap in technology but any hacking incident may have terrible repercussions.

Speaking at the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Chancellor Philip Hammond recently indicated that the government wants driverless cars to debut on Britain's roads in the next four years. He added that the move is necessary as it would enable the UK to 'lead the next industrial revolution'.

The first driverless cars in the UK would arrive without safety attendants on board, says the Chancellor who hasn't enjoyed the experience of travelling in a driverless car as yet. However, he is set to experience his first trip on such a car at West Midlands today.

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Chancellor Hammond will also announce new regulations on Wednesday that will allow developers to test driverless cars on the road. The announcement will be part of his upcoming budget speech which may also include a new financial package for the beleaguered NHS.

Hammond's announcement will pave the way for leading car manufacturers to invest on driverless technologies and to test their concepts on the UK's roads. Jaguar Land Rover has already begun testing and may soon be followed by other manufacturers in the coming months.

However, the potential loss of thousands of jobs for drivers may not be the only consequence the embracing of driverless cars will lead to. Cyber security experts have always been curious about such cars' cyber security, but a forewarning by a US computer scientist has given us a peek into what security flaws in driverless cars could lead to.

'If there was a war or escalation with a country with strong cybercapability, I would be very afraid of hacking of vehicles. Many of our enemies are nuclear powers but any nation with the ability to launch a cyberstrike could kill millions of civilians by hacking cars,' warned Justin Cappos, a computer scientist at New York University, in an interview goven to The Times.

'It’s daunting. They can send messages to the brakes and shut off the power steering and lock people in the car. and do other things that you wouldn’t want to happen. Once you are in the network you are able to communicate with any device so you could send a message to engage the brakes,' he added.

Cappos also said that at the moment, car components do not have the ability to understand where messages come from and whether they are authentic, and are thus succeptible to hacking attacks.

However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that they are prepared for the future and that 'lillions are invested to stay ahead of criminals and new cars have never been more secure.'

'They are already being equipped with the means to prevent remote hacking through regular software upgrades as well as encryption, layering, and alarms and immobilisers,' it added.

Back in July, the Department for Transport released eight new regulations that will govern the cyber security of connected and autonomous vehicles in the future. It recommended that the security of connected and autonomous vehicles should be assessed and managed across the supply chain and that the same is owned, governed and promoted at board level. The list if recommendations are as follows:

1. Organisational security is owned, governed and promoted at board level.
2. Security risks are assessed and managed appropriately and proportionately, including those specific to the supply chain.
3. Organisations need product aftercare and incident response to ensure systems are secure over their lifetime.
4. All organisations, including sub-contractors, suppliers and potential 3rd parties, work together to enhance the security of the system.
5. Systems are designed using a defence-in-depth approach.
6. The security of all software is managed throughout its lifetime.
7. The storage and transmission of data is secure and can be controlled.
8. The system is designed to be resilient to attacks and respond appropriately when its defences or sensors fail.

It remains to be seen if manufacturers in the UK will be able to put their driverless cars on the road by 2021 and even if they do, whether such cars will be secure enough to ward off sophisticated and malicious cyber-attacks at all times.