More and more self-driving and internet-connected vehicles are making its way to the market, which is endlessly exciting to autophiles.

However, new research demonstrates how the rise of connected cars could make entire cities vulnerable to hackers.

Cyber Threats And Cars

In a new study published in the journal Physical Review E, physicists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems, Inc. used physics to analyze the future of automative cybersecurity. The team focused on potential hacks on vehicles, including potential mass destruction.

According to the researchers, while cyber defenses have become more advanced through the years, there have also been more and more data breaches. As tech companies come up with more products that are hackable, the dangers on the cyber platform could rise and become a potential physical threat. It might not take much for terrorists or other figures with ill intentions to hack into and commandeer these objects.

For instance, cars that are connected to the internet could be hacked, which presents an actual physical hazard to citizens.

"With cars, one of the worrying things is that currently there is effectively one central computing system, and a lot runs through it," study co-lead author Jesse Silverberg of Multiscale Systems explained. "You don't necessarily have separate systems to run your car and run your satellite radio. If you can get into one, you may be able to get into the other."

For those who are familiar with the automotive industry, this may seem a bit worrying as cars become more and more connected. In 2018, experts predicted that the global market for connected cars will grow by 270 percent by 2022.

Simulations Reveal It Doesn't Take Much To Stall Entire Cities

The research team conducted simulations of hacking into connected cars, seeing what it would take to cause havoc and completely freeze traffic in cities like Manhattan. It turns out, not all or even a majority of cars in traffic need to be hacked to cause a complete gridlock.

Findings showed that stalling just 20 percent of the vehicles on the road during rush hour would already lead to complete traffic freeze and no one would be able to travel across town, according to graduate research assistant David Yanni. In fact, even stalling 10 percent would already cause significant damage.

This means that the scenario isn't only possible in a distant future where 100 percent of the population own connected cars. If just 20 percent of the cars on the road are connected to the internet and hackers find a way to access all their systems, it could be enough to completely debilitate traffic.

Furthermore, the researchers conducted their simulations in Manhattan, which has a compact, neat grid designed to make traffic more efficient. Study co-lead author Peter Yunker of Georgia Tech's School of Physics explained that the harm could be worse in larger cities with larger grids and more routes.

"I want to emphasize that we only considered static situations - if roads are blocked or not blocked," Yunker continued. "In many cases, blocked roads spill over traffic into other roads, which we also did not include. If we were to factor in these other things, the number of cars you'd have to stall would likely drop down significantly."

The authors stress that they're not cybersecurity experts, but scientists demonstrating the scale that a hack of these magnitudes are capable of.

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