Tesla Motors Inc car sensors can be “overwhelmed,” claim a group of researchers. At the Defcon hacker conference last week, the researchers showed how they were able to deceive or ‘overwhelm’ the sophisticated Tesla sensors to make the electric car hit an object that it would normally detect in its path.
How researchers played with Tesla sensors?
The group consisted of Jianhao Liu – a senior security consultant at Qihoo 360; Wenyuan Xu – a professor at Zhejiang University and The University of South Carolina; Chen Yan – a PhD student at Zhejiang University.
Together, they presented a variety of new findings. The group discovered new methods for “quieting” sensors to hide or diminish obstacles in the path of the vehicle; ‘spoofing’ the sensors to make an object appear closer or farther than it actually is. And also, jamming, which renders the sensors useless as it is deceived by the noise, Yan said.
While playing a demo video of a Tesla Model S attack, Chen Yan said “Normally the car will not move. However, when we jam the sensor it moves.” When the audience laughed, he added, “It hit me.”
A number of sensors are there on a Tesla Motors Inc Model S, and they are used for different functions. For example, the vehicle has a radar to detect objects in front of it, cameras to detect lane markings and speed limit signs, and GPS for location tracking. Many of these features can be deceived by a determined attacker, showed the talk.
The researchers jammed sensors in the rear of the Model S. As a result, the vehicle did not know that it was going to hit a person standing behind it. In another video, the group “spoofed” the Model S autopilot system to deceive it into thinking that it would drive into something that was not actually there. The researchers also used off-the-shelf lasers to defeat the onboard cameras. They wrapped objects in cheap black foam in one of the low-tech demonstrations, making the objects look invisible to the sensors of the car.
Tesla appreciated the work
The researchers successfully jammed the sensors on vehicles from Volkswagen, Ford and Audi as well, but most of their presentation was focused on the Tesla Motors Inc Model S. Yan told Business Insider that Tesla reacted positively when they disclosed their research. “They appreciated our work and are looking into this issue,” he said.
A few years from now, theoretically, somebody might be able to make a device that could jam certain sensors in a nearby vehicle, the experiment suggested. It should be noted that the demo was a proof-of-concept that didn’t mimic real-world conditions.
Jonathan Petit, the principal scientist at Security Innovations, told Wired that this is interesting and good work. Petit also presented a research on deceiving autonomous vehicles. “They need to do a bit more work to see if it would actually collide into an object. You can’t yet say the Autopilot doesn’t work.”