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US: Self-driving cars can be disrupted using a laser pointer

A cybersecurity expert said that he can disrupt self-driving cars that use LIDAR sensors, with “just $43 and a laser pointer.”

LIDAR sensors on self-driving cars work by sending laser light — usually non-visible infrared beams — in order to detect objects’ shapes and distances. According to Jonathan Petit, there is a problem: “Anybody can go online and get access to this, buy it really quickly, and just assemble it, and there you go, you have a device that can spoof lidar.”

The LIDAR can be made to falsely perceive objects that do not exist, or to ignore objects that are actually present.

A simple attack would cause the self-driving car to run into another car or an object. A more sophisticated attack could cause the car to choose a different path. Petit says “[this] means that then the risk could be ‘I’m sending you to small street to stop you and rob you or steal the car.’”

The Business Insider article is unclear but it appears the $43 is for equipment in addition to the cost of the laser pointer. Also, although the article did not say, it may be that the laser pointer needs to emit infrared light instead of, or in addition to, visible light.

Petit is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

From an article in Business Insider, posted December 15 2016. The detailed article also discusses many other non-laser techniques of hacking self-driving cars.