Self-driving cars have posed a lot of issues since the concept was first created. One of these issues is the matter of car hacking. However, while car makers and regulators are mostly worried about the possibility of self-driving car hacks, there’s a more practical threat to the self-driving car: defaced street signs. A study by researchers from the University of Washington revealed that it is relatively easy to throw off an autonomous vehicle’s image recognition system by strategically using stickers to alter street signs.
The researchers pointed out that if attackers know how a car classifies the objects it sees, such as target photos of signs, they can generate stickers that trick the car into believing a sign means something else. For example, a computer vision algorithm was fooled into believing that a stop sign was really a speed limit notice. The perpetrators of this act made use of nothing more than some graphic stickers taped onto the sign.
It is easy to see how defaced street signs could be a problem. One could make these stickers using a printer at home, so anyone could try this. it could lead to a crash the minute someone alters the sign, and it could lead to long-term chaos. Imagine what would happen if a road is closed until maintenance crews can scrape the stickers off defaced street signs.
There are ways to combat this. The research team suggests using contextual information to verify that a sign is accurate. Thus, a car would be able to tell that a stop sign should not be on a highway, or a speed limit on a back road. Also, local governments could install signs that use an anti-stick material, or put them out of reach. Whatever happens, something will have to change before passengers are going to trust self-driving cars’ sign-reading abilities.