Technology

DETROIT – Security experts and government officials warned that hackers could threaten  self-driving cars in the same way that they can cause harm to computers, at an Industry conference on Friday, heightening fears about the the promising new technology even before it has gotten off the ground.

They said that hackers could remotely steal owner information, or hijack self-driving vehicles and render them more dangerous than the truck that killed 84 people in Nice, France on July 14.

“When you look at autonomous autos, the consequences are so much greater” than the Nice attack by a possibly Islamic State-inspired man, said John Carlin, assistant US attorney general for national security,

“We know these terrorists. They don’t have the capability yet. But if they’re trying to get people to drive trucks into crowds, then it doesn’t take too much imagination to think they are going to take an autonomous car and drive it into a crowd of people,” said Carlin.

General Motors’ chair and chief executive Mary Barra said that the advanced information technology that comes in new cars, especially “connectivity” systems linking cars to the internet, creates huge new challenges.

“One of these challenges is the issue of cyber security, and make no mistake, cyber security is foundational,” she said.

Barra pointed to the need to protect the personal data of customers who use their in-car system for banking or to pay for other services.

“The fact is personal data is stored in or transmitted through vehicle networks,” she said.

Within the past year, the industry and key suppliers have gotten government approval to share information among themselves on cybersecurity without the threat of an anti-trust action.

Automakers are also recruiting “white hat” hackers who will help hunt down vulnerabilities in the IT systems of their cars.