Hackers could take control of cars and use them to kill “millions” in cyberattacks, software experts have warned.
Hostile states and criminals could target Britain by using modern vehicles as a weapon against citizens, Justin Cappos, a computer scientist at New York University, said.
He warned that any car built since 2005 could be controlled remotely by hackers — and urged the government to make software updates mandatory.
“If there was a war or escalation with a country with strong cybercapability, I would be very afraid of hacking of vehicles,” he said.
“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. It’s daunting.
“Once in, hackers 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.
“Components in cars are not good at understanding where messages come from and whether they are authentic.”
Stephen Morrow, of software protection experts SQS Group told The Times that regulation is needed.
“Manufacturers must be accountable. A lot only want to do the minimum — security can be expensive and too many see it only as a tickbox exercise,” he said.
“This is serious — lives are at stake. Government is going to have to get involved and standards developed and enforced.”
Carsten Maple, professor of cyber-engineering at the University of Warwick, also said: “We’ve already seen vehicles used with devastating effect as weapons.
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“Cybersecurity researchers and industry must ensure that systems are engineered to stop new attacks. This requires us to think as an attacker would, rather than an engineer.”
A spokeswoman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: “Billions 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.”
Earlier in the year, the chancellor said that driverless cars will be on Britain’s roads by 2021 as a result of regulatory reforms.
In this budget, Phillip Hammond said the new rules would allow driverless cars to be tested without any human operator inside or outside the car.
He said this would be without the legal constraints that apply in other EU nations.