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A UK cybersecurity centre needs to be established to prevent “potentially catastrophic” hacking of autonomous vehicles by criminals, according to a groundbreaking project.

A consortium of academic, security and digital experts explored the feasibility of creating a ‘Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence’ in order to detect, understand and respond to emerging threats to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

Its findings highlighted the “absolute and urgent need” for the creation of an industry-led, government-backed cybersecurity programme to ensure autonomous vehicles are protected.

Anthony Martin, head of vehicle resilience technologies at consortium member HORIBA MIRA, said: “As the UK moves from CAV demonstrations to mass deployment, the need to protect these vehicles and associated infrastructure from potentially catastrophic cybersecurity failures cannot be overstated.”

He added that the next steps will be to secure funding for the centre’s development.

The consortium’s report came as construction firms involved in delivering NHS Nightingale hospitals reported cyber attacks on their systems.

BAM Construct was reported to have shut down some of its computer systems after falling victim to an attack and Interserve Group admitted it was the target of a security attack last month.

In a statement, it said it was “working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and Strategic Incident Response teams to investigate, contain and remedy the situation".