I was watching NCIS New Orleans this week and the good guys were chasing the bad guy (who happened to be a cyber terrorist) through the streets of the Big Easy. The bad guy told his driver to keep going as he was keyboarding away on his laptop. Then he hit ‘return.’ The NCIS SUV stopped dead in the street, quickly surrounded by honking cars. The bad guy drove safely away.
According to our keynote speaker at PIE this March, Akshay Pottathil, this isn’t fiction, its fact. Today.
It’s a calm Saturday morning in August of next year. Suddenly, across the nation, 12,000 Tesla Model S sedans start up at the same time. They engage Tesla’s vaunted autopilot feature and head out onto the road. Some of them make their way to local gas stations. Some to electrical substations. And then, as they approach, they accelerate to top speed. The explosions are fantastic as the Model S batteries rupture and spark fires, which ignite anything flammable in the area. The power grid in the Los Angeles area is brought down almost immediately. Hundreds of fires rage. America is under attack. This might sound like science fiction. It’s not.
The author, Zack Aysan, is a computer security expert. He spends three quarters of the article telling us how this could happen, then a quarter with advice on how it could be prevented, maybe. He posits that governments cold pass regulations to ensure that security was perfect on self driving vehicles. He then gets into eyes glaze over territory explaining how these critters could be made secure from hacking.
My mentor spent a lot of time drilling into me the fact that if you believe you cannot be hacked, then you are telling yourself there is no one smarter than you on the planet. That’s a bad bet.
This could, of course, happen to airliners. But there are pilots there to shut down the computer and grab control if something like this should happen. (Remember being an airline pilot is 99% boredom, 1% terror.)
According to Aysan, there are no considerations or even discussions of this problem either at the manufacturing level or the governmental level. His question: will they wait until something bad happens? And then take steps.
I think we know the answer to that.