Are Smart Cars Really That Smart?

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Smart tech is pretty much the biggest thing around these days. It’s smart this or smart that everywhere you look. Just take smart cars, for example. Google’s been testing its self-driving car and sharing its developments (mainly the pretty side) which have gotten people excited about the whole smart movement. But is smart tech really as “smart” as we think?

If you ask me, an autonomous car is not-so-smart if it can be hacked via a simple off-the-shelf laser pointer combined with a very basic computer, like a Raspberry Pi.

You probably haven’t heard about this hacking because Google is too busy distracting you with praise and pictures of its cute-little self-driving car.

What Google doesn’t want you to know is that you can disrupt its multi-thousand-dollar LIDAR system for just about 60 bucks.

Security researcher Jonathan Petit, Principal Scientist at Security Innovation, recently reported that he used a homemade system using only a low-power laser and a pulse generator, powered by a Raspberry Pi or Arduino to outsmart self-driving car sensors.

The hardware was used to capture the light reflections from an obstacle and then send them toward the sensors, kind of like a laser pointer.

Petit was able to create the illusions of objects, like fake cars and pedestrians, anywhere from 20 to 350 meters from the LIDAR unit. The attack worked at distances up to 100 meters from all directions of the LIDAR and did not require him to target the sensor directly with the laser beam.

In theory, this hack could be used to slow autonomous cars by fooling them into thinking objects were in the road—or even paralyze the car’s tracking system so that it comes to a complete stop.

Sure, it probably wouldn’t be that hard to encrypt or encode these signals for a quick fix, but the scary thing is, hackers could target cars on the road today that are already using LIDAR systems.

Security continues to be a huge concern for smart cars, and it’s loopholes like this that make me question just how “smart” these vehicles really are.

Sensors are undoubtedly one of the most susceptible technologies in self-driving cars, so it looks like LIDAR still has a long way to come.

LIDAR’s estimated to be a billion dollar market by 2020, around the same time people predict these things will be on the road, so car manufacturers should probably start to consider remote attack scenarios before then.

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