Laser pointer 'hacks' self-driving cars

Laser pointer 'hacks' self-driving cars

An off-the-shelf laser pointer could be enough to hijack self-driving cars, a leading scientist has warned.

While billions of pounds is spent turning the idea of driverless vehicles into a reality - the industry will be worth an estimated £900bn by 2025 - a security researcher has identified a major security flaw.

Jonathan Petit, principal scientist at software security company Security Innovation, has discovered that a laser pointer has the ability to interfere with the laser ranging systems that most self-driving cars rely on to navigate.

The Lidar system creates a 3D map, allowing the car to identify potential hazards by bouncing a laser beam off obstacles. But shining a laser pointer at the car could trick it into thinking there's an obstacle ahead.

Mr Petit says hackers could force the vehicle to slow down using a single laser beam, or force it to remain stationary using a number of laser beams from different angles, which would make it think it's surrounded by obstacles.

He was able to trick the sensors into seeing 'ghost' vehicles or pedestrians from a distance of 330ft (100m).

But there are ways to mitigate the risks, he adds, such as a system that does misbehaviour detection. This would cross-check with other data and filter out obstacles that are not plausible.

The 'proof-of-concept' attack will be presented at the Black Hat Europe security conference in November.

Mr Petit claims it will be a wake-up call for carmakers developing driverless technology.

Copyright Press Association 2015 (Black Hat Europe security conference)