Black­Berry CEO warns driver­less cars could be used as deadly ‘weapons’


Driver­less cars could be hacked and de­ployed as “fully loaded weapons,” says John Chen, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Black­Berry.

The com­pany, based in Water­loo, Ont., is de­vel­op­ing soft­ware for driver­less cars in part­ner­ship with Baidu, the Chi­nese web search gi­ant.

Chen said driver­less cars were pro­grammed with more lines of code than a typ­i­cal fighter jet, of­fer­ing enor­mous scope for hack­ers to ex­ploit vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to in­sert mal­ware.

“A car could eas­ily be in­fected with viruses (and) is lit­er­ally a fully-loaded weapon. If hack­ers can get hold of it, you can imag­ine what they could do.”

He added that the in­dus­try was work­ing hard to re­duce the risks.

“I can cre­ate a car I think is 90 per cent virus free but as soon as that car gets on the road and is be­ing used, those con­di­tions need to be reg­u­larly checked,” Chen said.

Un­like a jet, all of the code comes from dif­fer­ent sources, which can ex­ac­er­bate its vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to cy­ber at­tacks. De­spite huge in­vest­ment from tech gi­ants like Google, Ap­ple or Tesla, Chen said that driver­less cars would take at least an­other five years to take off com­mer­cially.

Chen has called for gov­ern­ments to set safety stan­dards that tech gi­ants can ad­here to as they de­velop driver­less ve­hi­cles.

“Reg­u­la­tion, and safety and se­cu­rity tech needs to be es­tab­lished well be­fore I think any­one should al­low the cars on the road,” he said. “The self-driv­ing car still has a lot of hu­man er­ror and safety con­trol.”

He also pointed to the co­ex­is­tence of driver­less cars with manned ve­hi­cles on the road as a ma­jor chal­lenge, which raised ques­tions over who or what would be held re­spon­si­ble in the event of an ac­ci­dent.

“If there is a crash, who would the in­sur­ance hold li­able — the hu­man or the car?” he said.

Au­tonomous nav­i­ga­tion tech is also af­fected by en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. “I think the recogni- tion part of it is a prob­lem,” he said. “We know in our lab that if the sun is at a cer­tain an­gle and the wind is blow­ing a cer­tain way, the road sign is not 100 per cent rec­og­niz­able in a sec­ond,” he ex­plained.

In­sur­ance com­pany RSA said the rise of driv­ing aids that keep cars in their lanes and re­spond to traf­fic around them “are in dan­ger of giv­ing the false im­pres­sion of a level of au­ton­omy not yet avail­able”.

“More spe­cific and rig­or­ous de­scrip­tors are re­quired to de­scribe and cat­e­go­rize ve­hi­cle au­to­ma­tion, so that the risk they pose for the driver is more ac­cu­rately rated for in­sur­ance pur­poses,” the re­port said.

Chen’s com­ments come just weeks af­ter Ap­ple’s self-driv­ing car crashed on a test-run near its head­quar­ters in Sil­i­con Val­ley while it was on “au­tonomous mode”.


Black­Berry CEO John Chen says the in­dus­try is work­ing hard to re­duce the risk of hack­ers ex­ploit­ing driver­less cars.


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