Trinity, professional hacker [from The Matrix]Enlarge Photo
Fully autonomous cars are still years away from hitting the roads, and the U.S. probably won't be the first to receive them. But that hasn't stopped car fans from thinking about the inevitable arrival of self-driving vehicles and their many implications.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is thinking about them, too. According to Detroit News, NHTSA has requested $2 million to launch a new division that will ensure the safety of our increasingly computerized, networked cars and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles. NHTSA has charged this new division with outwitting would-be car hackers.
Are such steps necessary? Yes and no.
On the one hand, we've not yet reached the point where hackers can wreak havoc on mass numbers of automobiles. For that to happen, our cars would need to rely far more on computerization, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication would need to be widespread.
On the other hand, V2V is coming. Once it arrives, our cars will be fully networked, and we all know what happens on networks, right?
And even before that takes place, mischievous types will have the opportunity to fiddle with individual automobiles. For example, many of today's cars can be opened with smartphone apps: how difficult can it be to find a backdoor in that software, allowing a hacker to unlock the vehicle of his or her choice?
There are privacy issues to consider, too. Nissan and other automakers are aggressively developing in-dash apps, which thrive on driver's personal data. Install the wrong one on your own car, and your privacy could become seriously compromised.
Bottom line: autos are changing, and they're changing fast. Laws haven't kept up with many of these changes, but the bad guys (and gals) surely have. With the stakes of cybercrime growing by the day, it's nice to see NHTSA taking a proactive stance.