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Police Controlling Your Autonomous Car Could Add Security Risks, Experts Say

Hackers can take over your journey

  • Recently, police were seen stopping Cruise’s robo-taxi for failing to turn on the lights.
  • Cruise is testing computer vision and sound detection AI to help his cars respond to emergency vehicles.
  • Security experts say hackers could exploit the mechanisms police use to control self-driving cars.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Experts say self-driving cars that police can operate remotely in emergency situations could pose a safety risk.

In a recent incident on Instagram, police were seen stopping Cruise’s robo-taxi because the lights weren’t on. Video shows the Cruise car coming to a stop, but it’s unclear if any automatic systems were activated. Observers said the incident demonstrated the need for police interaction policies as self-driving cars become more commonplace.

“Law enforcement should not only have no remote controls [capabilities] because [it] It will end up in the wrong hands, but technology that enables remote control should not be installed in production vehicles, even if it is a disabled feature,” Brian Cantos, director of security at Phosphorus Cybersecurity, said in an email. told Lifewire in an email.

“Merely having these technical capabilities, even if they are not activated, could be exploited by criminals in the future, such as diverting the vehicle to another destination, causing the vehicle to operate in an unsafe manner, or disabling the lock on the door.”

self control?

In the video, a cruiser is parked on the side of the road and an officer motions him to enter the intersection. The officer attempted to open the driver’s door, but the Cruise vehicle began to travel down the road before coming to a second stop.

cruise wrote on twitter Regarding the incident, he said: “Our AV yielded to the police car and then parked it as planned in the nearest safe place before the traffic stopped. Cruise staff were contacted by an officer and no charges were made.”

But looking ahead, Contos suggested that law enforcement could force self-driving car makers to install ways for police to monitor cars. He cited the case of the FBI trying to access the iPhone through a backdoor to bypass Apple’s strong encryption, but noted that the problem with this approach is that the backdoor cannot be limited to a single entity, such as law enforcement.

“It’s basically a vulnerability that you put into your code on purpose,” Contos said. “So once you build a backdoor into your software, you create a huge hole in your security that other actors could potentially exploit. A backdoor is a backdoor, period. The same goes for cars, it’s just a bigger system.”

Contos speculates that attackers could cause vehicles on the road to malfunction, causing them to be held hostage until the owner or manufacturer pays the ransom.

know your rights

Unfortunately, if the police want to take over your self-driving car, you probably don’t have a legal basis to fall back on, civil rights attorney Christopher Collins told Lifewire via email.

“From a legal standpoint, police already have the power to stop a vehicle under what is known as a very low standard of reasonable suspicion,” Collins explained. “They can almost always point to some objective criteria for why they suspect this particular vehicle needs to be stopped.”

In a car driving on the highway at sunset

Lu Shaoki/Getty Images

The FBI is already investigating how self-driving cars will affect surveillance. The agency wrote on its website that police officers should prepare for the growing number of robotic cars that affect their jobs.

“In the transition from human-driven vehicles to driverless vehicles, [autonomous vehicles] It is likely programmed to obey traffic laws and operate devices such as traffic lights,” the FBI wrote. “It also seems likely that [level] 4 and 5 [self-driving] The system will comply with these restrictions more accurately than human operators, which will reduce the priority of traffic enforcement within law enforcement agencies.

“As long as these technical capabilities are available, even if they are not activated, they can help with future development…”

But Cantos said that for driverless vehicles, such as sweepers, garbage trucks or similar vehicles owned by the city without passengers, police could operate remotely. “This use case makes sense,” he added.

Contos also suggested that police could use similar measures they use today, such as puncturing a tire with a spike or immobilizing a self-driving car with a police car, if the self-driving car gets out of control.

“If a passenger has a medical emergency, they can stop, and if the door is closed, they can approach the passenger with a Slim Jim or break a window,” Contos said.

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Police Controlling Your Autonomous Car Could Add Security Risks, Experts Say

Hackers might be able to seize your ride

Police were recently spotted pulling over an autonomous Cruise taxi because it allegedly didn’t have its headlights on. 
Cruise is testing computer vision and sound detection AI to help its cars respond to emergency vehicles. 
Security experts say hackers could take advantage of mechanisms that police use to control autonomous cars.
Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

Self-driving cars that police can remotely control in emergencies could create security risks, experts say.

In a recent incident posted on Instagram, police were spotted pulling over an autonomous Cruise taxi because it allegedly didn’t have its headlights on. The video shows the Cruise car coming to a stop, though it’s unclear if any automated systems were activated. Observers say the incident shows that policies governing police interactions will have to be established as autonomous vehicles become more common.

“Not only should law enforcement not have remote control [capabilities] because [it] will ultimately fall into the wrong hands, but technology that allows remote control should not be installed on production automobiles even if it is a disabled feature,” Brian Contos, the chief security officer of Phosphorus Cybersecurity, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

“Just having these technical capabilities, even if not activated, could lend themself to future exploitation by a nefarious actor such as redirecting the vehicle to a different destination, causing the vehicle to operate unsafely, or disabling door locks.”

Self-Policing?

In the video, a Cruise car pulled over to the side of the road when signaled by an officer ahead of an intersection. The officer tries to open the driver-side door, but the Cruise vehicle begins to drive down the road before stopping a second time. 

Cruise wrote on Twitter about the incident, saying, “our AV yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, as intended. An officer contacted Cruise personnel, and no citation was issued.”

But in the future, Contos suggested autonomous car makers could be forced by law enforcement to install ways for police to control their cars. He cited the case in which the FBI tried to get backdoor access to the iPhone to bypass Apple’s robust encryption but noted the problem with this approach is that a backdoor cannot be limited to just one entity, such as law enforcement.

“It’s basically a vulnerability which you are deliberately adding into your code,” Contos said. “So once you build that backdoor into your software, you have created a big gaping hole in your security that other actors could potentially exploit. A backdoor is a backdoor, period. The same is true with a car, it’s just a much bigger system.”

Contos speculated that attackers could trigger vehicle malfunctions on the road, which could lead to vehicles being held hostage until the owner or manufacturer paid a ransom.

Know Your Rights

Unfortunately, you might not have a legal leg to stand on if the police want to control your autonomous car, civil rights attorney Christopher Collins told Lifewire via email. 

“From a legal standpoint, police already have the right to pull over vehicles under a very low standard called reasonable suspicion,” Collins explained. “They can almost always point to some objective criteria to justify why they suspected this particular vehicle needed to be stopped.”

Lu ShaoJi / Getty Images

The FBI is already looking into how autonomous cars will affect policing. The bureau wrote on its website that police admins need to plan for the increasing number of robot cars that will impact their work. 

“In the transition from human-operated to driverless vehicles, [autonomous vehicles] most likely will be programmed to obey traffic laws and control devices, such as stoplights,” the FBI writes. “It also appears probable that [level] 4 and 5 [self-driving] systems will adhere to those constraints more precisely than human operators, lessening the priority of traffic enforcement within a law enforcement agency.”

“Just having these technical capabilities, even if not activated, could lend themself to future exploitation…”

But Contos said that in the case of autonomous vehicles such as a street sweeper, waste disposal truck, or similar vehicle owned by a city government that doesn’t have passengers, police should have remote control capability. “That use case makes perfect sense,” he added.

Contos also proposed that if an autonomous vehicle is out of control, police could use the same analog measures they use today, such as flattening the tires with spike strips or trapping the autonomous automobile with police cars. 

“If a passenger is suffering a medical emergency, they can pull the car over, and if the doors are locked, gain access to the passenger with a Slim Jim or break the window,” Contos said.

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