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The Uncomfortable Truth About the 40-Ton Autonomous Truck

The Uber acquisition of Otto and its self-driving software last year led to the recent and successful 120-mile journey of a autonomous truck from Fort Collins, CO to Colorado Springs, CO carrying nothing other than 2,000 cases of beer. Self-driving vehicles and the larger Internet of Things (IoT) economy are coming to fruition quicker than we had ever thought. Toward the end of last year, Google’s Self-Driving Car Project had racked up 2,102,047 miles in autonomous driving mode – meaning no humans behind the wheel. That is a lot of miles and that’s just Google. Countless other companies are now following suit and exploring the autonomous driving market.

The successful beer run represents the tip of the iceberg with regard to applied use for autonomous transport. For example, autonomous military vehicles can replace the use of human drivers in conflict zones. The more prevalent these types of autonomous technologies become, however, the more questions they raise about safety and security.

WIRED recently covered the topic of robots and autonomous trucks and whether the shift will cause the estimated 4 million truckers in the United States to lose their jobs. While trucking is still a human endeavor, it faces many challenges before autonomous driving will take over. As Steve Shladover, who studies autonomous driving at UC Berkeley says, “It’s relatively easy to stage a demonstration that looks impressive but to get to the point where a system is ready for public use is vastly more complicated and challenging.”

Autonomous Trucks Save Lives – But Are They Secure?

While autonomous trucks will also undoubtedly save lives, given the 4,000 deaths attributed to driver error involving commercial vehicles, there is some foreboding over the security of autonomous trucks.

Security flaws in connected cars can allow hackers to access controls and take over the vehicle. The stakes are raised when it is with a 40-ton autonomous truck. The damage that a hacker could inflict is magnified should they compromise the security of a truck and weaponize the big rig. Startups such as Starsky Robotics are engineering systems that rely on human navigation from a remote location, which potentially opens up new vulnerabilities end-to-end. The Embark system, which launched out of stealth according to Re/Code in February, models the Otto system, which requires a driver to take over when exiting the highway. While the goal of these companies is to increase productivity – and not necessarily to remove the need for a driver – security must be examined and implemented holistically. There should be no choice for security; it must be there, and not as an afterthought. Security for autonomous semis should not be looked at as something bolted on at the end of an assembly line.

A few of the vulnerabilities and security risks of autonomous trucks include:

  • Lack of sufficient bus protection. The vechicle signaling and communications bus, CAN bus, lacks the necessary protection to ensure integrity, availability, authentication, and nonrepudiation.
  • Misuse of the protocols. Denial of Service (DoS) attacks via CAN; malicious error messages can be used to trigger the fault-detection-mechanism response in CAN.
  • Information leakage and corruption. Hackers can manipulate the diagnostic protocol by sniffing ordinary diagnostic sessions and injecting modified messages.

To ensure that connected vehicles are secure, the millions of lines of code per auto, and many cryptosystems, need to be hardened. Together, Code Protection and Secure Key Box provide the best solution for accomplishing this as they deliver multiple layers of security through application obfuscation, self-defense, secure cryptographic operations and tamper resistance technology.

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Published inAutonomous VehiclesCybersecurityPublished in 2017

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