Self driving cars vulnerable to hack attack with a laser pen

Driverless cars vulnerable to paralysis through laser hack attack

Laser hack attack can paralyze driverless cars and trick them to take evasive action

According to security research, hackers can easily fool self-driving cars by exploiting its laser navigation systems and sensors and making it to think that another car, a person or an obstacle is in front of them and force it to take evasive action.

The Lidar 3D imaging systems, which the self-driving vehicles use to navigate and build a picture of their surroundings, are tricked by the hackers by using a cheap low-power laser making them to think that there is something in front of them forcing them to slow, stop or take evasive action.

Dr Jonathan Petit, a former research fellow in the University of Cork’s Computer Security Group and a principal scientist with a focus on connected vehicles and consultation services at Security Innovation, discovered the exploit while conducting research into the cyber susceptibilities of autonomous vehicles.

He told the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum (IEEE) that the attack is simple and cheap that can be performed with off-the-shelf equipment, including a Raspberry Pi or Arduino computer that can effectively spoof the car at a range of up to 100m. Petit said more details would be revealed at the security conference at the Black Hat Europe in November.

He could then reproduce them with a laser and create fake objects that fool the self-driving cars to stop, or take evasive action or turn in a certain direction by thinking that the spoofed objects are in their paths.

“I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want. And I can do the same with a pedestrian or a wall,” he told IEEE Spectrum.

“I can spoof thousands of objects and basically carry out a denial-of-service attack on the tracking system so it’s not able to track real objects.”

Providing explanation, Petit said that the important part of the exploit is the poor input systems of some driverless cars. This means that they can make bad decisions on the data they collect from the road and surrounding environment.

“If a self-driving car has poor inputs, it will make poor driving decisions,” he said.

The Lidar system is currently being used in trials on the streets in Milton Keynes. In the trials, 22 sensors and artificial intelligence are used by LUTZ Pathfinder vehicles to avoid collisions. The system has been called as the “cutting edge” by UK Transport Systems Catapult.

However, Petit has been able to fool it with his laser pen. “I don’t think any of the Lidar manufacturers have thought about this or tried this,” he said.

The focus of hackers have recently shifted to car automation systems, including those fitted to current vehicles as cruise control and emergency braking systems,

A number of attacks have clearly shown the serious weaknesses within their security, that could allow hackers to take over control of key systems including brakes, throttle and steering. After researchers pointed that they could take control of the car via simple text messages, Jeep owner Chrysler began a recall of cars that were equipped with the company’s Uconnect entertainment system. Recently, the recall was extended to another 7,810 vehicles fearing safety issues.

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