Safety Compromises in Cars: What we Gain in Risks in Exchange for Autonomy

The coming age of autonomous vehicles offers much in the way of improvements to the lives of people today. Not only are the vehicles safer for those inside the car as well as those outside, but they are also easier to use. Autonomous vehicles open driving to a new category of users that previously were unable to drive. The biggest advantage however will be the massively increased safety that this revolution will bring.

Human error will be a thing of the past, with dependable onboard systems ready for any condition, handling all maneuvers. This leap in safety will naturally lead to lowered car insurance premiums, with experts predicting the move to full automation lowering insurance costs by almost half, but we’ll have to wait for autonomous cars to be a common thing, as well as insurance providers like Qantas and others to comply with rules and regulations before we find out what these “cut in half” figures could be.

However, as has been seen in other industries across the globe, the move towards more sophisticated technology also brings with it dangerous problems. In an article published by The Times last week, David Williams, Axa Insurance’s technical director expresses that ransomware could very well come to vehicles next. The recent WannaCry attacks have instilled a fear in those afflicted by it, with this shift in public opinion of cyber-security being reflected in the jump in stock prices for companies in the industry. The threat of loss of data and/or company secrets is indeed ominous, but the damage potential of a car hack would be seen immediately, and with unpredictable consequences. Civilians can be stranded, delivery trucks stalled, and horrifyingly, emergency response vehicles could be prevented from reaching the places they are needed. And that’s only if the hack simply stops the vehicle. Far worse – car hackers could easily use compromised vehicles for massive terrorist attacks.

The problem is no longer limited by proximity to the vehicle either. The widely known hack of a Jeep Cherokee in 2015 demonstrated that hacking cars remotely is no longer science fiction. This dreadful reality has even made its way into popular culture, with one of the most iconic scenes of the recent blockbuster Fast and Furious 8 featuring a large-scale car hack. With the cars of tomorrow being as interconnected as any part of an IoT network, the risk for such a remote, malicious hack increases exponentially if dynamic security measures aren’t implemented.

The current techniques used for PC and server cyber security simply don’t have the fortitude to match the scale of IoT risks, with every device being a potential gateway for more sensitive devices, like phones, computers, or cars.

As the speculations and warnings turn to reality, the world will need to adjust itself to combat the threat that is malicious hacking. It will not be long before all legislation relating to automobiles has cyber-security aspects integrated into it, and likewise, insurance firms will adapt their policies in tandem too.