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NHTSA Chief: Self-Driving Cars Must Be Able to Defeat Hackers

Self-driving cars must be able to protect themselves from 'bad actors,' says the chief of the federal agency in charge of keeping our highways safe.

Self-driving cars must be capable of fending off hackers before they’re allowed to take to the roads en masse, says the chief of the federal agency in charge of keeping our highways safe.

Mark R. Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, spoke of the promise of car technology innovations on Tuesday at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He said the government wants to help, not hinder, industry innovation — provided human safety and privacy aren't compromised.

"For these innovations to reach their true potential, we've got to account for, well, us — people, with all our failings and foibles. We will need to help folks who can't tell a lidar from a coffee maker understand how these innovations work, and how they will make us all safer, so that the public embraces them," Rosekind said in his prepared remarks.

Among the major challenges: protecting autonomous cars from "bad actors."

"They are a threat to safety, to privacy, and to public acceptance of connected automation," Rosekind said. "We must reassure vehicle owners that their data is secure, that their vehicle is secure, and that we are looking out for threats from hackers, thieves, and anyone else who might seek to tamper with safety-critical technology."

Related: Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Connected Cars from Hackers

Rosekind spoke on the same day that Wired magazine published an account of how two hackers used a laptop computer to remotely take control of a Jeep Cherokee while its driver was cruising the highway at 70 mph.

"When a TV news show hacks a car, that’s not news to NHTSA," Rosekind said. "NHTSA not only is aware of these threats, but we’re working to defeat them."

NHTSA is currently drawing up proposed rules for vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Its proposal should be ready for review by the end of the year.

Related: Google Self-Driving Car Slammed Into From Behind, Minor Injuries Reported