Posted on July 30, 2019 at 2:08 PM
When self-driving cars finally become what everyone uses, researchers have projected that hackers could put an entire city to halt using connected cars. This gridlock, according to the researchers, can happen by shutting down just 20 percent of vehicles in the middle of a city intersection.
You are rushing to meet up with an early morning appointment. All of a sudden, your car stops working in the middle of the road. You open your window to find out what the issue is, but to your amazement, other cars are in the same fix as yours. Traffic gridlock has happened and the entire city is at a standstill.
This scenario may look impossible as at present, but physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems, Inc. in a new study have demonstrated how hackers can achieve this even in a world that is connected.
Traffic Solid Simulation
To demonstrate how hackers can hold a whole city to ransom by causing traffic gridlock, researcher, the researchers froze Manhattan traffic to nearly solid. But in a very practical sense, they acknowledge that things do not have to get this severe for the hackers to wreak their damage.
To achieve the gridlock, the study says that hackers only have to stall a few cars at rush hours, and a city like Manhattan with its impeccable grid layout will remain still due to traffic gridlock.
Other cities that do not have the grid layout of Manhattan are likely to be most severely affected, says the report. The situation can grow worse as people come out in frustration to check what is happening.
“Manhattan has a nice grid, and that makes traffic more efficient. Looking at cities without large grids like Atlanta, Boston, or Los Angeles, and we think hackers could do worse harm because a grid makes you more robust with redundancies to get to the same places down many different routes” says, Peter Yunker, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Physics, and a co-contributor to the research.
Hacking Can Take Fewer Vehicles
In arriving at the number of vehicles hackers need to cause traffic gridlock, the researchers left aside some factors. These factors are likely to increase the damage that such hacking can cause.
One of these is public panic leading to people coming out of their vehicles to check what the issue is. And when this happens, the gridlock becomes more pronounced and the damage increases.
The researchers did not also factor in the possibility of some notorious hackers targeting a very busy road where a little gridlock can prove fatal.
If they had considered all these in their submissions, Yunker said that hackers might not need more than a few vehicles on the road to cause the gridlock.
Before now, most studies on the security of self-driving cars have focused on single cars and how hackers can make them go off way to hit a pedestrian. However, with this study, researchers want to broaden the scope and cover all possible grounds.
“Unlike most of the data breaches we hear about, hacked cars have physical consequences,” Yunker noted.
Possible Way Out
In their own rights, the researchers came up with some ideas that could help minimize damage in the event that such hacking happens. According to Skanka Vivek, the lead author, and postdoctoral researchers, experts can “Split up the digital network influencing the cars to make it impossible to access too many cars through one network.”
He continued by saying that “If you could also make sure that cars next to each other can’t be hacked at the same time that would decrease the risk of them blocking off traffic together.” Obviously, much of the damage control lies in the hands of car experts.
The brains behind this study do not claim to be cybersecurity experts, but they hope that experts and government officials will take it up and review it. By assessing the findings, they can find ways to either stop this possible attack or lessen it if it happens.
Their results and findings have been published in the Journal of Physical Review E.