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Researcher Hacks Self-Driving Car Sensors


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How the world might appear to a self-driving vehicle.

Security Innovation's Jonathan Petit says the laser-ranging systems most self-driving cars use to detect obstacles could be hacked with equipment costing around $60.

Credit: Jeff Kowalsky/Corbis

Laser-ranging (lidar) systems that most self-driving cars use to detect obstacles can be hacked by a setup costing about $60, according to Security Innovation's Jonathan Petit. He says attackers can use such a system to trick a self-driving car into thinking something is directly ahead of it, thus forcing it to slow down, or overwhelm it with false signals to completely immobilize it.

In a paper written as a research fellow at the University of Cork scheduled to be presented at the Black Hat Europe security conference in November, Petit described his simple setup using a low-power laser and a pulse generator. He found sensors are among a self-driving car's most susceptible technologies because lidar systems use easily-mimicked pulses of laser light to create three-dimensional pictures of the car's surroundings. Petit recorded pulses from a commercial IBEO Lux lidar unit, noting the pulses were not encoded or encrypted, allowing him to replay them at a later point.

Petit argues it is never too early to start thinking about security, asserting a "strong system that does misbehavior detection could cross-check with other data and filter out those that aren't plausible."

From IEEE Spectrum
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