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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With cars further evolving from “just” hardware into software platforms, the wide range of IT systems in an autonomous vehicle present many opportunities for cyberattacks. Artificial intelligence, especially machine learning technologies, can detect anomalous vehicle behavior or attempted code interference in real time.

Why it matters: Compromised code in the systems that control acceleration, braking, directional guidance and other crucial safety functions can jeopardize lives on the road.

Inside a hack:

  • After hackers breach an AV’s system, they can identify vulnerabilities, infect additional areas of the vehicle, and collect and extract data.
  • Their malicious goals could include anything from tracking the vehicle's movements (perhaps with an eye toward robbing passengers or burglarizing their homes when they are far enough away) to disabling its brakes, putting people both inside and around the vehicle in danger.
  • Embedded, stealth malware in the vehicle's network and in the units that control its IT and electronic subsystems could generate atypical activity, such as fluctuations in the number of bytes sent or the amount of memory being used.
  • Example: Hackers could install malware in a truck that activates when it determines — via the vehicle's cameras and sensors — the truck is in an isolated section of highway. The truck could be forced to stop, allowing criminals in another vehicle to corner it and abscond with the loot. 

How AI detection might help:

  • AI uses data from the vehicle's network and central computers to learn its normal behavior, typically before the vehicle is mass-produced. Algorithms can then process operating data to identify and flag any abnormal behavior as a potential cyberattack, triggering safety systems that can intervene.
  • These algorithms need to distinguish between real attacks and false positives, such as when a vehicle owner has modified the software for speed or other safety precautions.

What to watch: Attacks on AVs could spur a “horse race” between developers trying to continually improve traditional security measures and hackers developing more sophisticated attacks to upend these security systems.

Yossi Vardi is the CEO of SafeRide Technologies, an automotive cybersecurity startup.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.