Researcher: $60 laser pointer can hack self-driving cars

Researcher: $60 laser pointer can hack self-driving cars
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The laser apparatus used by most self-driving cars can be hacked with a glorified laser pointer that costs just $60, Spectrum reports.

Most prototype self-driving cars use a kind of laser technology similar to radar to detect and evade objects in front of them, like pedestrians or other vehicles.


Jonathan Petit, a research fellow at the University College of Cork, Ireland, has discovered how to use a low-power laser and a pulse generator to trick an autonomous car into thinking it is surrounded by obstacles, thereby either forcing it to slow down or immobilizing it altogether.

“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,” Petit told 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.”

Petit will present his “off the shelf” hack at the Black Hat Europe security conference in November.

The paper comes amongst proliferating reports of hackable cars. On Friday, Fiat Chrysler announced that it is recalling 7,810 vehicles that are equipped with a radio vulnerable to hacking. The recall follows another Fiat Chrysler recall of roughly 1.4 million vehicles earlier this summer.

Fears of consumer harm have sparked a small flurry of legislation as lawmakers seek to force vehicle manufacturers to bolster cyber safeguards.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Biden likely to tap Robert Califf to return as FDA head Biden faces pressure to pass infrastructure bills before climate summit MORE (D-Mass.) in July introduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, which would require the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create standards to protect cars from hacks.

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top two members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, are demanding that car manufacturers outline how they will protect consumer health and safety as “smart” car technology proliferates.