How will we protect self-driving cars against theft?

  • August 23, 2016
  • Scott at LoJack

Self-driving vehicles promise to offer many benefits – chief among them is the chance to make the roads safer and give more opportunities for people who can’t drive to easily get from point A to point B. New concepts from tech companies and automakers like Google, Tesla, Ford, Uber, Apple, Toyota and others suggest a future with fewer accidents and happier commutes.

But what about protecting these vehicles against theft? As our vehicles continue to be packed with new technology, today’s sophisticated car thief gets smarter and uses new and bolder tactics.

In a world with more self-driving vehicles, how will thieves adapt their tactics, and what safeguards will be needed to protect our vehicles and the occupants?

While it’s hard to predict so far into the future that adoption of these vehicles may become mainstream, here are some questions that carmakers, tech providers, law enforcement and others might need to consider:

  • Will thieves become even more sophisticated? This one is easy: yes. Autonomous vehicles will be run by a computer and may use technology like a retinal scan or fingerprint reader to operate. It would seem to be more difficult for an opportunistic thief to jump into an unoccupied vehicle left running and drive away, or even to carjack a vehicle. But given how far theft tactics have advanced just in the past 20 years, it would not be surprising if thieves found ways to breach the system and take control of vehicles.
  • Will self-driving vehicles be “street-smart” about theft? Some self-driving vehicles may even have situational awareness to drive away and avoid a theft. If this becomes reality, makers of self-driving vehicles should continuously update these street smarts as thieves’ tactics adapt.
  • How can we make self-driving vehicles smarter about parking in safe areas? One of the most effective measures to mitigate the risk of theft is also the most simple: parking in safe, well-lit areas. Will self-driving vehicles have awareness of what areas to avoid due to the risk of theft, and which are safer? This ability will go a long way toward keeping vehicles and their human passengers out of harm’s way.
  • How do we protect against carhacking? It’s not hard to imagine that cybercriminals will target self-driving cars, perhaps by hacking into the vehicle’s software and disabling the engine and brakes, demanding bitcoin to restore it to its working state. Makers of autonomous vehicles, auto dealers, fleet owners and consumers will need to be aware of these cyber threats and the steps to keep vehicles secure, just as they are about threats to computers and phones.

Self-driving cars are still in concept stage, but it’s never too early for the makers of the self-driving vehicles of tomorrow to be thinking about auto theft of tomorrow.