QUT road safety expert Professor Andry Rakotonirainy says as cars become more connected, they are at a real risk of being hacked.
Professor Rakotonirainy is speaking at the Occupational Safety in Transport Conference (OSIT) on the Gold Coast on 18 to 19 September, with a focus on the cyber security vulnerabilities of vehicles.
Professor Rakotonirainy, from QUT's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS), has researched the security systems of existing vehicles, as well as autonomous and connected cars, and found virtually non-existent security against hacking.
According to Professor Rakotonirainy, the security protection on cars is "at a level of protection that a desktop computer system had in the 1980s."
"The basic security requirements such as authentication, confidentiality and integrity are not strong," he said.
"As vehicles become more and more connected and autonomous, with the ability to communicate to other vehicles and infrastructure through wireless networks, the threat of cyber attack increases."
According to Professor Rakotonirainy, most vehicles built within the last decade already have features that allow them to connect to the Internet and communicate with devices within the vehicle. But the development of intelligent transport systems would see future vehicles connecting to wireless networks as a standard feature, as well as greater levels of automation.
Particularly critical is CAN-BUS technology, which all new cars are equipped with.
"CAN-BUS allows all microcontrollers within a car to communicate to each other and is accessible via a mere plug," he said.
"It can be used to control almost everything such as the airbags, brakes, cruise control and power steering systems. CAN-BUS can be accessed locally or remotely with simple devices."
In the near future, Professor Rakotonirainy says, cars will be wirelessly connected to other cars and with infrastructure, so as to enable safety features, including automatic crash avoidance or compliance with traffic stops. This could prove to be a double-edged sword in safety, because hackers could possibly track or take control of cars by exploiting wireless networks or security loopholes.
Professor Rakotonirainy said it was vital for car makers, government and road safety experts to turn their attention to this global security threat.
"A vehicle's communication security over wireless networks cannot be an afterthought and needs to be comprehensively considered at the early stages of design and deployment of these high-tech systems from the hardware, software, user and policy point of view."