Hacking a self-driving car may be a lot easier than anyone expected.
A security researcher recently discovered a way to breach a self-driving car by using a laser pointer to trick the car into thinking there were obstacles in front of it, causing it to slow down.
The flaw exists in a self-driving car’s LIDAR system, which is a laser-based radar system used for navigation in most self-driving cars.
The system essentially uses pulses of laser light to construct a 3D image of a vehicle’s environment. It’s a pretty key piece of technology to ensuring the safety of autonomous vehicles as it’s responsible for mapping out the surroundings.
But the system can easily be tricked with about $US60 worth of gear, Jonathan Petit, a principal scientist at the security firm Security Innovation, told IEEE Spectrum.
According to Petit’s report, a laser device similar to a laser pointer with a pulse generator can easily spoof thousands of objects to basically carry out a denial of service attack on the tracking system so that it cannot track real objects. The contraption can be used to make the car slow down or even come to a complete stop because it’s fooled into sensing objects that don’t actually exist.
Petit tried out his “proof of concept” attack on one particular system, the IBEO Lux LIDAR system, which was used in past concept cars from BMW and Nissan, so his results are limited in scope. But he told IEEE Spectrum that he does not think most LIDAR manufacturers have taken this vulnerability into consideration.
Tech Insider reached out to IBEO for comment and will update the story as soon as we receive a response.
Tech companies like Google and Uber, as well as traditional automakers like BMW, are currently investing heavily in self-driving technology. But Gartner predicts it will be another five to 10 years before self-driving cars go really go mainstream.
While autonomous vehicles may still be in the early stages, it’s never too early for manufacturers to begin thinking about how to integrate security into these types of systems, Petit said.
Of course, cars don’t have to autonomous to be open to hackers. As cars become smarter, we are beginning to see a rise in the number of vulnerabilities discovered in connected cars. For example, in July, two hackers showed how they could easily exploit a vulnerability in Chrysler’s Fiat UConnect system to remotely hijack the car from thousands of miles away. And in August, white hat hackers demonstrated how they could take over the breaks of a Corvette using a simple text message.
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