Road builders address cybersecurity concerns in preparations for self-driving future

Smart sensors, drones and induction loops among technological tools to support self-driving cars

Road planners must anticipate the potential consequences of cybersecurity breaches and design relevant solutions into their road and related civil works projects, the head of a local road industry association has warned.

Responding to concerns that ongoing vehicle hacks could present safety concerns for self-driving cars, Australian Asphalt Paving Association (AAPA) CEO Michael Caltabiano told CSO Australia that designers needed to anticipate the potential need to quickly and safely sideline an autonomous vehicle without interrupting the flow of traffic or causing a collision.

“Security issues will definitely have an impact,” he explained. “If a road vehicle gets identified and is isolated, you have to put them somewhere.” With this threat in mind, he added, the roads industry was working to strengthen its interactions with the vehicle industry to anticipate long-term planning needs.

“We're telling the sector to identify what the problems are, and we will come up with the infrastructure solution that you need to make it happen. If the cybersecurity side of the private sector says we need to have a hard sand shoulder, we will work to minimise the impact of the breach on vehicles.”

Safety concerns remain paramount amongst proponents of self-driving cars, which have been rapidly moving onto public roadways amidst demonstrations confirming that many models can be remotely taken over, or potentially even held victim to ransomware.

Car maker Nissan was investigating a report suggesting its Infiniti Q50 was the most hackable car on the market, while Jaguar Land Rover recalled over 65,000 cars last year over concerns about reported software defects.

Tesla's Model S was recently claimed to have been hacked, while one researcher claimed he could stop a self-driving car with a laser pointer. While security issues with individual vehicles remained out of the scope of road builders' engagement, those vehicles would increasingly be looking to sensors and control signals embedded in the roadways – data dots, microchips, and even induction loops to recharge electric cars while in motion.

This need was pushing AAPA to engage with its members to ensure consistent equipment and communications standards for equipment embedded in Australian roads. “Unless we are building smart infrastructure that is fully cognisant of the future state, we will be out of the loop,” Caltabiano explained. “Once those technology decisions are made, as an industry, we have to be ready to enable those outcomes that policymakers want.”

Future planning – for which the association has been holding workshops around the country and encouraging brainstorming by road authorities and service technicians – also includes autonomous drones, which could be utilised to improve road safety for applications like dropping witches' hats in formation at road-construction sites.

“It's all part of getting people out of harm's way,” he said. “The technology already exists, but what hasn't happened is the application of the technology to deliver those outcomes. This is the journey that we have started, to highlight for member companies that they need to be gearing up for next-generation thinking about the pavement of the future. They will be ready.”

The US government has been driving the autonomous-vehicles agenda, with its recent Federal Automated Vehicles Policy (FAVP) outlining a 15-point safety assessment including data recording and sharing, privacy, system safety, cybersecurity, human-machine interface, and consumer education and training, and more.

Autonomous vehicles, the guidelines state, must apply “appropriate functional safety and cybersecurity best practices” and implement data-security measures “that are commensurate with the harm that would result from loss or unauthorized disclosure of the data”.

Working along similar lines, security firm Kaspersky Labs suggested last year that it was working closely with car makers to improve security, while Volkswagen last month announced it would found an entire cybersecurity firm dedicated to preventing the hacking of cars.