The Future of Autonomous Vehicles: Risk with Privacy and Tracking

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Our latest white paper speaks to the risk of data security in a world where even our vehicles are constantly connected. This new technology that’s present within autonomous vehicles will result in a shift in privacy for the average person and an entirely new area of forensic and litigation expertise, especially when it comes to vehicle accidents. Who is at fault? The manufacturer? The seller? The driver? The employer?

Get insights on:

  • What are autonomous vehicles, and how do they work
  • Collision avoidance systems and what they mean for accident prevention
  • Privacy and security of driver and vehicle data
  • Manufacturing and liability in a new era of autonomous vehicle innovation

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The Future of Autonomous Vehicles: Risk with Privacy and Tracking

The emergence of autonomous vehicles and the use of semi-autonomous technologies have been making news headlines in recent years. With the ever-increasing discussions regarding the use of autonomous vehicles in the commercial and private sectors, a number of questions may come to mind, aside from the common: how do they work, and how do they avoid collisions?

The ability these technologically advanced vehicles have to connect is tremendous. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) today can connect to satellites, to other vehicles, to systems, to devices, and to our own personal data. So what does that mean for data security? Can driver data be collected and used after an accident?

Before we dig in, it’s important to understand the evolution, and how autonomous vehicles have become a part of the Internet of Things.

The vehicle industry is more than 100 years old, and in the beginning, technology advances primarily came in the form of better manufacturing, resulting in more affordable vehicles. The last 10 years have been a watershed of technology innovation with an almost manic obsession with driverless vehicles as the “next big thing.”

As with so many disruptive advances in technology, driverless vehicles will not only create new industries and opportunities, but this new technology will also result in a shift in privacy for the average person and an entirely new area of forensic and litigation expertise.

We are already in the age of a permanently connected car with features such as hot spots and cellular access. But this is primitive compared to the level of connectivity that will be needed to fully realize the vision of driverless vehicles navigating in congested urban environments. AVs will eventually become part of the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT) where all kinds of devices are communicating with each other and with the AVs.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

As more “things” are connected, via the internet, to other devices and networks, like cars, trucks, GPS devices, personal fitness watches, home automation devices, nanny cams, industrial plant controls and even refrigerators, privacy becomes an even greater concern. There are currently more than 8.4 billion “things” connected to the Internet. Every device, whether it is a computer or a vehicle, is susceptible to hackers either compromising the software and taking over or using the device for their own nefarious purposes.

The Upside to Connectivity

Communication within this new electronic environment can enable cars and trucks to share their location and speed with other vehicles to avoid collisions. The on-board sensor suites react, with superhuman speed, to inputs from the vehicle and the environment immediately around the vehicle.

AVs will also communicate with other parts of the environment (e.g. traffic management systems), to help avoid traffic jams and gridlock.

It’s an interesting preview into this new communication environment, with examples such as Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Both of these systems communicate with the electronic environment from the vehicle while linked to the driver’s cell phone. Other communication systems such as On-Star have features such as live sensor data, GPS tracking, and can offer control of vehicle systems remotely. Systems such as OnStar have been in existence for more than 20 years, and in 2001, began being offered as an accessory for non-GM vehicles.

Drivers can even make purchases, ask for directions, or control their linked smart home devices with Echo Auto, when Ford announced it was bringing Alexa into vehicles in 2017.

However, this is only the beginning as the true implementation of autonomous vehicles will need high speed, high availability, communications. The ability for a vehicle to communicate with other vehicles, and with land-based traffic monitoring systems, will be key to the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles.

The Downside to Connectivity

What makes all of this both exciting and a little frightening is the fact that this style of communication, and our devices (which are now integrated into our vehicles), are all hackable.

Imagine getting into your car, pressing the start button and having a ransomware message appear, “If you want to start your car, send $500.”

To read more about how autonomous vehicles work and the liability and data concerns that have emerged, download the full white paper.

Contact one of our mechanical or digital forensic experts with any questions or to help assist with future cases or matters.

Download the White paper