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DC Insider: Is vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology secure?

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Vehicle-to-Vehicle technology, known as V2V, is coming. It uses dedicated short-range communications similar to Wi-Fi that is combined with the Global Positioning System. This system provides a 360-degree view of similarly equipped vehicles within communication range. Nine indicators are used by the system to help prevent crashes: GPS location, speed, acceleration, heading, transmission state, brake status, steering wheel angle, path history and path prediction.

But have you heard of Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, known as V2I?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, V2I “communications for safety is the wireless exchange of critical safety and operational data between vehicles and highway infrastructure, intended primarily to avoid or mitigate motor vehicle crashes but also to enable a wide range of other safety, mobility, and environmental benefits.”1

Will V2V and V2I be part of the same network?

The vision of V2I Communications is that a minimum level of infrastructure will be deployed to provide the maximum level of safety and mobility benefits for highway safety and operational efficiency nationwide. Importantly, V2I communications have the potential to resolve an additional 12 percent of crash types not addressed under V2V communications. V2I Communications for Safety is a key technology in the USDOT's Connected Vehicles Program, and is complemented by the V2V communications research. While the primary goal is safety, V2I communications are also significant in improving mobility and environment by reducing delays and congestion caused by crashes, enabling wireless roadside inspections, or helping commercial vehicle drivers identify safe areas for parking.2 

Will it be secure?

If you listen to the U.S. DOT, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, the system will be secure.

The FCC chairman has made a commitment to ensure that the 5.9 GHz bandwidth -- which supports V2V -- remains free from interference that could result from expanded use of Wi-Fi in the band.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency has allocated the 5.9GHz bandwidth "for the development of connected vehicle technology" in response to the Intelligent Transportation Society of America's request for a V2V spectrum.

Wheeler offered his commitment in conjunction with the U.S. DOT’s NHTSA announcement that it intends to enable V2V communication technology for light vehicles.

However, an article in Wired magazine titled, “Hackers Can Mess With Traffic Lights to Jam Roads and Reroute Cars,” raises concerns about the security of the V2I network. In particular, the article points out the lack of security in sensors controlling traffic lights.3

According to Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentinian security researcher with IoActive who examined the systems, “By sniffing 802.15.4 wireless traffic on channels used by Sensys Networks devices, it was found that all communication is performed in clear text without any encryption nor security mechanism. Sensor identification information (sensorid), commands, etc. could be observed being transmitted in clear text. Because of this, wireless communications to and from devices can be monitored and initiated by attackers, allowing them to send arbitrary commands, data and manipulating the devices.”4

What does this mean in simpler terms?

“While Cerrudo acknowledges that the systems may have manual overrides and secondary controls that could be used to mitigate problems, an attacker could nevertheless create traffic jams and other problems — causing lights to remain red longer than they should or allowing cars at metering lights to enter freeways and bridges faster or slower than optimal — before anyone would notice and respond to the problem”(emphasis added).5

In other words, the sensors can be accessed by a hacker to cause deadly crashes. This is especially disconcerting for motorcyclists.

How do motorcycles fit into this emerging technology?

With privacy and safety our utmost priorities, the American Motorcyclist Association still has some areas of concern with this new technology.

The U.S. DOT has stated that privacy and system security are secure. We aren’t convinced.

The AMA has provided comments to the FCC to bring awareness that the V2V and V2I technologies may be compromised with unlicensed devices, such as other Wi-Fi networks or hackers. Therefore, we asked the FCC for further testing to ensure vehicles using advanced crash-avoidance and vehicle-to-vehicle- technologies are not compromised.

V2V and V2I technologies present another potential problem. With vehicular intersections already a well-documented problem for motorcyclists, can you imagine the false sense of security that drivers may have who are relying on advanced safety technologies?

They may listen and look for the bells and whistles on their cars rather than look out the windows to actually see motorcycles. Drivers may believe these technologies will protect them and other road users and may not be aware that these technologies could possibly malfunction at a critical moment.

As these new technologies emerge, we must remain vigilant to ensure that motorcyclists and motorcyclists’ rights are protected. The AMA is at the forefront in this effort, and we will continue to inform our members and all motorcyclists about our concerns and possible solutions.


1., accessed May 30, 2014
2. Ibid.
3., accessed May 30, 2014
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

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