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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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ISIS Working On Driverless Car Causes More Worry Than Necessary


A NATO security expert has warned that the Islamic State (ISIS) is working on a driverless car, to replace suicide bombers.

Jamie Shea, deputy assistant secretary general at NATO for emerging security threats, said that the terrorist group was “playing around” at its bomb-making factory in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Such a statement is bound to cause reactions ranging from worry to panic. Google is currently at the testing stage of its technology and just recently signed a deal with Fiat Chrysler for the production of 100 driverless minivans. Related: Shell’s Profits Plunge 83%

British media reported that the country is expected to have thousands of autonomous vehicles on its roads in just a few years. The thought of jihadists having access to autonomous driving technology is certainly worrying. But let’s try to keep a clear head.

The FBI, Shea was reported as saying, has for a long time warned that autonomous vehicles could become a security risk if they fall into the wrong hands. Of course they would be a security risk, just as any Internet-connected vehicle would.

Just last month, the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, John Carlin, told executives from the auto industry and law enforcement officials that connected vehicles are very vulnerable to cyber attacks and urged carmakers to be mindful of that risk when they develop new models and updates.

Carlin reminded his audience of last year’s security test that had resulted in the successful intentional hijacking of a Jeep Cherokee, done via the Internet. Related: 50,000 Laid Off In Saudi Arabia As Oil Crisis Bites Deeper

In five years, there will be hundreds of millions of connected cars on the roads, and if carmakers don’t find a way to up their game and make sure they stay a step or two ahead of criminals and terrorists, these hundreds of millions of vehicles will become a security threat in their own right.

But let’s go back to ISIS and its reported efforts to make its own version of the Google car. This is what Shea said, as quoted by the Express: “Speaking in London, he said ISIS was using its ‘technical expertise’ to ‘play around’ with driverless cars in a ‘worrying’ development for the self-styled caliphate.”

This is quite a vague statement, if we set emotional responses aside. “Playing around” smacks of experimenting without really having a clue what you are doing. “Technical expertise” does have a credible ring to it but does anyone know with any amount of certainty what kind or what level of technical expertise the jihadists have?

And let’s not forget that Google has been working on its car for over 10 years now. Note the complexity of its makeup. Copying the results of a decade-long process of research, development and testing by “playing around” in a bomb factory sounds difficult to believe. Unless ISIS has somehow stolen Google patents and trade secrets, of course. Related: As Oil Markets Tighten, Geopolitical Events Matter Again

Now, that would be a seriously worrying piece of news, but so far there have been no reports about anything like this. True, Google is by no means the only company working on driverless cars, but such tech would naturally be a closely guarded secret. As such, if anyone stole any information about the technology, the company it was stolen from would in all likelihood alert relevant authorities and the media will take it up.

Since there is no information about intellectual property theft for now, I suggest a solid dose of skepticism to statements like Shea’s is in order, keeping in mind that the theoretical threat of terrorists getting their hands on driverless car technology is very worrying indeed.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • mvlazysusan on May 08 2016 said:
    Airplanes, like some crop-duster, fitted out with mechanical equipment to operate gas, rudder, elevator, flap and controlled by a Smartphone app would be hard to stop, and having to navigate a road becomes unnecessary.
  • Bill Simpson on May 09 2016 said:
    They are running low on suicide drivers already? Want to see the cheap answer to them? Google, 'KORD 12.7 mm Russian heavy machine gun', and watch the 5 minute video. Ouch! That's gonna hurt. Those Russians can't build much of a car, but they have the weapons thing down pat. Those cars and trucks had better move really fast to outrun those big bullets. Check out how far they fly off at night. You would need some thick steel plate to stop them. Those babies are moving.
  • ray d on May 10 2016 said:
    Car manufacturers need to encrypt the link between the key FOB and the car to prevent hijacking today. This is similar to heart defibulators, anyone with a RF sniffer or write can change the settings in a defibulator today. Its a security risk today.

    As for stealing patents, once they are issued or patent applications published after 18 months of filing are public knowledge, they are not being stolen. The manufacturers of self driving cars can request the PTO not to publish the application but once issued they are published in the Federal register with some minor exceptions for security of the nation.

    The problem is that the government, with the exception of the NSA and a few other secret organizations don't understand the technology or the implications to the public of an invention and wouldn't be capable of stopping the publication of such technology, let alone recognize what is being claimed.

    Very large scale integration on silicon chips is not achieveable in a make shift lab in a desert or cave without lots of power and clean rooms. Using discrete logic or microprocessors publicly available would not leave room for much control of a vehicle. It could be done but function would be somelimited, could be jammed and high volume manufacturing is doubtful.

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