In this article, we shall explain how blockchain can be used to prevent hijacking in the industry of autonomous, self-operated vehicles.
Sadly, vehicle hijacking has become part of our modern ‘popular’ culture. It has been hyped up in ‘blockbuster’ movies where a vehicle, sometimes a commercial airplane (but that can also be a metro tram, a boat, etc.) has been hijacked by a group of terrorists for various reasons.
In the past, such hijackings were done with violence, using guns and physical constraints. However, nowadays, hijacking is increasingly thought to be done through electronic means, like hacking the remote controls of vehicles. And, if the vehicles are totally unmanned, hacking the cyber-control systems that manage them.
These scenarios are now becoming seemingly more likely. For example, imagine a team of terrorists being able to hack fleets of autonomous trucks, crashing them into crowds of people or diverting autonomous aircraft drones to use them against people, etc.
Threats like these examples must be taken seriously. Our aim here is to introduce blockchain technology as a way to possibly prevent such terrible scenarios.
An Imaginary Scenario
In this fictional description, we imagine a scenario involving a self-driving minibus with the ability to carry up to 20 passengers. Such services are already appearing and self-driving minibuses are being produced, such as Cruise Automation’s Origin Minibus, their joint venture with GM and Honda, for example.
These minibuses are usually electric vehicles having an autonomous navigation system based on “A.I.” (e.g. neural networks, etc.) that collects several pieces of information from various sensors and takes driving decisions (turn right, turn left, brake, etc.).
Since these minibuses usually rely extensively on software, they can be hacked. Transportation systems like subways or intercity trains generally use robust industrial systems, often even using formal methods to prevent collisions or accidents. However, the burgeoning self-driving industry is still too new to fully make use of such difficult systems.
Minibuses operate in a complex hybrid environment that is not under control, like trains and most other rail vehicles. Therefore, such minibuses could be remotely accessed fraudulently by an attacker. For example, one may imagine that these minibuses have a remote control protocol, This would allow operators (‘remote bus drivers’) to fully navigate the bus if the A.I became faulty.
In this catastrophic scenario, a terrorist could hijack the bus and provoke a collision with other vehicles. This could even be done at a high scale by controlling dozens of buses at the same time, and crashing them into other vehicles, therefore, killing or injuring many innocent people. Protections against such attacks consist of the usual mixture of thought, remote access control, multi-factor authentication, etc.
Here we will see how blockchain can provide an astonishingly simple mechanism to prevent such acts of terror.
How Blockchain + HSM Can Secure Autonomous Vehicles
Blockchain is a distributed ledger that securely checks and validates transactions involving assets. For example, these ‘transactions’ can involve data of various nature collected by sensors.
Blockchain can be used in a surprising number of domains. One is fighting against hacking and identification forgery.
A blockchain-based identification can link the identity of authorized remote drivers to the identity of a bus. The authorization for a remote driver can be voted (e.g, consensus-based) by members of the blockchain. This prevents the risk of forged documents and identification where malevolent accomplices operating inside the bus transportation system could give access to the terrorist.
One can even imagine a system where “A.I.” and blockchain work together and where A.I. is part of the consensus. For example, the network of the A.I. on the bus (one bus = one A.I. agent) would “vote” together to allow a remote driver on one of the buses. Here, the blockchain would cooperate and even fuse with the A.I. in a very futuristic but quite logical scenario.
Of course for this to work, private keys of the blockchain identities would have to be stored in a secure cryptographic device like an HSM to prevent these identities from being stolen and fraudulently used.
In this article, we briefly looked at a futuristic system where fully autonomous A.I.-powered buses could be hijacked by terrorists, and how blockchain and HSMs could save the day! While such a scenario may seem futuristic now, it could become routine in just a few years’ time.
References and Further Reading
- Learn more about Utimaco's HSMs for blockchains
Blog post by Dr. Ulrich Scholten