Hackers steered a Tesla into oncoming traffic by placing three small stickers on the road

Keen Labs Tesla AutopilotKeen Labs via YouTube

  • Cybersecurity researchers from Tencent's Keen Labs were able to fool Tesla's Autopilot into merging into oncoming traffic.
  • The hackers also controlled the car using a video game controller.
  • Tesla thanked the group for its research and confirmed no customers had ever experienced the problems in real driving.

A prolific cybersecurity research firm says its managed to make Tesla's Autopilot veer off course by using three small stickers on road pavement.

Keen Labs, two-time honoree of Tesla's bug bounty hall of fame program, said in an Autopilot research paper on Saturday that it had found two ways to trick Autopilot's lane recognition through changing the physical road surface itself.

The first attempt to confuse Autopilot used blurring patches on the left lane line, which the team says is too difficult for someone to actually deploy in the real world and easy for Tesla's computer to recognize.

Keen Labs Tesla lane lineWhen researchers blurred the left lane line, Tesla's autopilot stopped recognizing it.Keen Labs

"It is difficult for an attacker to deploy some unobtrusive markings in the physical world to disable the lane recognition function of a moving Tesla vehicle," Keen said.

The researchers said they suspect that Tesla also handles this situation well because it's already added many "abnormal lanes" in its training set of Autopilot miles. This gives Tesla vehicles a good sense of lane direction even without good lighting, or in inclement weather, they said.

Not deterred by the low plausibility of the first idea, Keen then set out to make Tesla's Autopilot mistakenly think there was a traffic lane when one wasn't actually present. The researchers painted three tiny squares in the traffic lane to mimic merge striping and cause the car to veer into oncoming traffic in the left lane.

Tesla autopilot Keen LabsKeen Labs

"Misleading the autopilot vehicle to the wrong direction [of traffic] with some patches made by a malicious attacker is sometimes more dangerous than making it fail to recognize the lane," Keen said.

"If the vehicle knows that the fake lane is pointing to the reverse lane, it should ignore this fake lane and then it could avoid a traffic accident."

In response to Keen's findings, Tesla said the issues don't represent real-world problems and that no drivers have ever encountered any of the report's identified problems.

"In this demonstration the researchers adjusted the physical environment (e.g. placing tape on the road or altering lane lines) around the vehicle to make the car behave differently when Autopilot is in use," the company said. "This is not a real-world concern given that a driver can easily override Autopilot at any time by using the steering wheel or brakes and should be prepared to do so at all times."

A Tesla spokesperson told Business Insider that while Keen's findings weren't eligible for the company's "bug bounty" program, the company holds the researcher's insights in high-regard.

"We know it took an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and skill, and we look forward to reviewing future reports from this group," a spokesperson said.

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