Think cars are dangerous? Connected cars are even worse

By Oliver Smith 7 March 2017
ARM CEO Simon Segars.

British chip giant ARM just warned that no one is safe on the road.

Our cars are becoming ever more connected, both to the internet and to each other.

But this interconnected world is posing unique risks for vehicles which were never designed to deal with digital threats.

In 2016 there were dozens of examples of cars being hacked, often by security researchers, exposing just how vulnerable the vehicles on the road today are.

Last year Chinese hackers took control of a Tesla’s brakes, door locks and other electronic features from 12 miles away.

Read more: Another recall as 8,000 more Jeeps found vulnerable to hackers

“In all honesty you’re probably going to see more of that this year than you did last year,” Simon Segars, the CEO of British chip giant ARM Holdings told The Memo during a press conference at Mobile World Congress.

Tesla Model S in a small Alpine village.

Deadly driving

Around 85% of computer chips used in cars are based on ARM’s chip designs, the company also designs the chips used in 95% of smartphones.

“All the electronics in cars were designed without the concept of being [internet-]connected, so many of these components weren’t designed with security in mind”.

“Now we’re adding connectivity and there’s a risk because there’s suddenly a way in,” said Segars.

His comments followed those of Softbank founder and Japan’s second-richest man Masayoshi Son who said every car contains a whopping 500 ARM-based chips.

“None of them are secure today,” Son added, prompting nervous laughter from the audience during his keynote at Mobile World Congress.

Son led Softbank’s £24.3bn takeover of ARM last year, and is aiming for ARM to deliver over a trillion chips in the next 20 years.

“We are shipping a lot of ARM chips, but in the past those were not secure. We are enhancing very quickly the security. We need to secure all of the things in our society.”

Son also showed a video of ARM engineers easily hacking a 4×4 and another of an ARM engineer breaking into 1.2m security cameras just during his lunch break.

Safety first

Unfortunately there’s no easy solution to the rising threat we face as our cars become ever more connected.

The very latest chips being designed by ARM are highly secure, but the automotive industry typically takes years to adopt new chips and consumers take even longer to buy new cars with new technologies in them.

For the next five to 10 years chances are we’ll be living in a world with hundreds of thousands of vulnerable vehicles on the road.

Better buckle up.