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Autonomous vehicles are here to stay, and MSPs have a significant opportunity to become guardians of their security.

Many MSPs already have industrial accounts, and that is where the most significant advances are occurring. A survey last year showed that 9 percent of manufacturing operations employ some autonomous vehicle on the factory floor. This number is expected to climb to 20 percent by 2021 and go upward from there.

Self-driving vehicles present both an opportunity and an obstacle for MSPs

The opportunity is in their rapid growth and security needs, while the obstacle is that the technology is so new, there are a lot of pitfalls to navigate.

“The government is far behind having the relevant framework to address the issues. This is not surprising, because they are always in catch-up mode. People like myself need to keep addressing these issues,” notes Eran Kahana, a nationally recognized attorney specializing in AI and cybersecurity issues.

“It is the designer’s responsibility for any malfunction a vehicle experiences. but if there is an overriding or intervening action on the part of the operator, then it is the operator’s fault,” details Kahana.

If an MSP is in charge of the vehicle’s security and there is a failure, that is on the MSP. Unlike a hack at the local bank, the consequences of a successful hack on an autonomous vehicle is frightening. 

“Hacking into an autonomous vehicle can cause enormous harm. Imagine disabling a computer that interfaces with the brake system. Suddenly you have a careening, runaway, 2-ton vehicle. This could cause injury or death. It’s a potentially life-threatening situation versus hacking a computer network,” describes Kahana.

MSPs seeking opportunity in driverless vehicles and drones better make sure they have sufficient technological firepower in place to ward off intrusions. It wouldn’t hurt to have a liability policy in place, either.

Data security remains an unresolved issue

“These are mobile dynamic units that change with their operational environment frequently,” explains Kahana.

Imagine a factory campus where a driverless vehicle must go between buildings. The unit may traverse gravel, dirt, grass, and endure elements such as rain or snow. The device’s operational data will change to adapt to conditions.

“If they are any changes from hacking, it compromises its ability to handle data safety. That becomes a minefield of potential problems that could easily cause injury and property damage. The data integrity of autonomous vehicles has become of keen interest because they are computers on wheels,” states Kahana. 

As far as the role for MSPs in the growing field of autonomous vehicles, that will depend on how the regulatory landscape evolves over the years ahead.

“It depends on how you think about cybersecurity,” predicts Kahaha, adding that certain elements of security will be out of the realm of the manufacturers and will become increasingly dictated by federal law.

MSPs will find a partner in their government

Even in cases where MSPs get involved in autonomous vehicle security, Kahana expects the law will dictate (via audits) how clients manage them.

Because of the inherent danger that autonomous vehicles present, Kahana believes the government needs to be heavily involved. As it stands in the United States, there are several states with different rules governing driverless vehicles.

“How do you blend them into a single, uniform set of rules?” muses Kahana, adding that each state is approaching the question differently.

“Some states are farther ahead. There is a salad of approaches to the issue of connected vehicles, but it needs to be more uniform,” says Kahana. He predicts that it may take an attack to get the law to catch up.

“If the federal government doesn’t provide guidance, it will be a free-for-all with potentially catastrophic consequences,” warns Kahana.

Photo: Andrey Popov / Shutterstock

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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