Self-Driving Car Sensors Hacked With Only $60

Posted: Sep 8 2015, 5:04pm CDT | by , in News | Cars & Vehicles


Self-Driving Car Sensors Hacked with only $60
Credit: Getty Images
  • Self-driving sensors can be manipulated with only $60!

A security researcher hacked the laser system called lidar on which the self-driving car operates.

New research on the sensor system of self-driving cars has come to attention. According to the research, autonomous cars employ a laser ranging system called lidar system. The laser system acts as the sensors of the cars which can sense the obstacles in the path of the car.

A security researcher has claimed to be able to hack the system entirely. The researcher stated he can hack into the lidar system by using equipment worth only $60. The lidar system itself is worth thousands of dollars. 

The research was carried out by Jonathan Petit. Petit is a Principal Scientist at Security Innovation, a security software company. According to Petit he can take the echoes of fake cars and put them anywhere he wants.

The same can be carried out with pedestrians or walls. The autonomous car can be made to believe an object is directly in front of them. The same signals could be bombarded into the sensor system of the car. The overwhelming of the sensors will cause the car to stand still and not move at all. 

Petit started work on the research when he was still a research fellow at the University of Cork’s Computer Security Group. A paper was written by Petit on his work. The paper will be presented at the Black Hat Europe security conference. The conference will take place in November 2015. 

Petit described the process saying he used a simple design to hack into the sensor system. Petit used a low-power laser and a pulse generator. Petit shared the low power laser is a sort of a laser pointer.

The pulse generator is also not crucial while the actual hack is taking place. The actual hack can take place by using a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino. Both of the instruments are available off the shelf. 

Petit started the research trying to find the vulnerabilities in the self-driving cars systems. Petit quickly realized the most vulnerable part of the technology is the sensor system. Petit explained the sensor system is where the input of the autonomous cars starts. If the initial input is poor then the car will make poor decisions while driving. Petit described the sensors as a ‘Key Point’ of the autonomous cars technology.

The lidar system uses laser lights to construct 3D images of the surroundings of the car. The radars on the cars are short range. The lasers of the lidar system use mimicked pulses to come up with images.

Petit started recording the images built by the lidar system on the commercial IBEO Lux lidar unit. The pulses recorded were not encoded or encrypted, which allowed Petit to replay the pulses later.

The trick was the synchronization of the pulses. Later Petit fired synchronized pulses or signals back at the lidar sensors. The lidar system was confused by the signals and believed there were objects in front of the car. 

Manipulating the lidar system Petit made the lidar system believe it had a fake car, wall, or pedestrian in front of it. The illusion object could be set up at a distance of more than 20 to 350 meters away from the car.

The fake objects could even be moved by Petit. According to Petit he can spoof thousands of objects. Petit did admit the attacks are limited to only one unit. But the research can be expanded to other units. Petit claimed the point of his research is to make sure a security system is a hundred percent secure. 

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