Smart cars must be protected from hacking threats says minister

Car manufacturers will have to better protect internet-connected vehicles from cyber attacks, under new government guidance issued today.

Smart vehicles, allowing drivers to access maps, travel information and digital radio services, are becoming increasingly common on roads in Britain.

It is feared that hackers could target them to access personal data, steal cars with keyless entry or take control to potentially cause accidents.

Under new government guidance, engineers developing smart vehicles will have to toughen up cyber protection and help eliminate hacking.

Transport minister Lord Callanan said the risk of hacking was low but insisted that protecting vehicles against cyber attacks was "important".

"There are huge safety advantages for the public in using this technology, that's one of the key drivers of it," Lord Callanan said.

"But there are some things we need to beware of and cyber security is a particularly important part of it.

"We need to make sure that the designs of the vehicles in the first place are completely cyber secure so that people can't break into them, they can't steal them and more importantly they can't hack them to potentially cause accidents."

Lord Callanan said members of the public could also take steps to protect their vehicles from hackers.

"The advice would be treat them as you would your computer," he added, during a visit to Bristol.

"Be careful who you give access to, don't plug in devices such as USB sticks that you don't know the origin of.

"Be careful what apps you download to it, make sure you have the latest software."

Vehicles that self-park are already on British roads and fully self-driving cars will be widely available "very quickly", the minister added.

"We are already at some degrees of autonomy with vehicles even now, you can have them doing an awful lot," he said.

"We need to make people aware of the fact that they are coming, they offer tremendous advantages but there are one or two threats that we need to make people aware of."

The Autonomous and Electric Vehicles Bill, announced in the Queen's speech this year, aims to create a framework to insure self-driving vehicles.

Measures to be put before Parliament mean that insuring new vehicles will provide protection for owners if technologies fail.

Lord Callanan said the issue of liability if accidents did occur must be addressed.

"We need to introduce a new insurance product that if a vehicle is being driven autonomously then the insurance company would be liable," he said.

"This would be a new emerging form of insurance that would also be a great product for the UK to sell around the world."

Mike Hawes, chief executive of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, welcomed the guidance and bill.

"These vehicles will transform our roads and society, dramatically reducing accidents and saving thousands of lives," he said.

"A consistent set of guidelines is an important step towards ensuring the UK can be among the first - and safest - of the international markets to grasp the benefits of this exciting new technology."

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