Thursday, December 15, 2016

Is Obama's NHTSA Ruling Putting Our Lives at Risk?

Because real life testing of driver-less cars is already underway, it is obvious that they will be all over our roads in the not-too-distant future.

And, I'm alright with that.  These autonomous vehicles will be fully aware of all the conditions around them; make adjustments to speed and steering; and will save lives by avoiding driver distractions and human-error collisions.   It will be a godsend for people with disabilities who normally can't drive on their own; including people with vision problems.  I am quite sure the technological development from testing will make these cars as error-free as possible.

However, there may be a possible chink in the dream of error-free, driver-less transportation.  Obama's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just put a ruling into place for a  90-day comment period before implementation. That would require all new vehicles, at some time in the future, to be capable of wireless communication with other vehicles in order to reduce accidents.  Also known as V2V (Vehicle-2-Vehicle) communications, the language of those communications would necessarily have to be common and unsecured for the system to work....and that's a big problem.

A hacker with knowledge of the wireless communication protocols being used, could easily take control of any vehicle that is fully automated; and without secured communication, it would be as easy as saying "mo-tee-ga" (the Russian word for "hack"). It could possibly even involve multiple vehicles.  The object could be malicious, to cause accidents or death; much like the arsonist who gets off on starting fires, or it could be criminal, wanting to kidnap, rob, or even assassinate.  The FBI warned us about this in March of this year. Their name for this kind of hacking is known as "vehicular cybersabotage".  It has already been demonstrated by two researchers who remotely took control of a Jeep Cherokee and crashed it.

We should also be worried about after-market devices such as "Hum" from Verizon, which use cellphone technology that communicates directly with you car's onboard computer system.

More importantly, Barack Obama is dumping this on us with roughly 50 days left of his term out of the 90 day comment period; and Donald Trump's new administration may not have enough time to review the comments before the NHTSA puts the ruling into effect.   Call me cynical, but I suspect this was intentionally done in order to deprive Trump of the time needed to review the ruling.  There is no reason why this couldn't have waited a few months before entering the comment period. Also, expect other rules from the Obama administration to be "dumped" in the next week or so, for the same reason.


Feds: Cars must be able to talk to each other:

U.S. DOT advances deployment of Connected Vehicle Technology to prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes:

The FBI Warns That Car Hacking Is a Real Risk:

Hum By Verizon:


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