In order for smart cars to be able to make decisions for both safety and self-driving purposes, they need to be euipped not just with sophisticated computer brains but also with a ton of sensors. At the most basic level, those include cameras and motion sensors and in some instances even lidars. That same equipement, however, can also be used for less than simple purposes, like taking pictures of cars passing you by which can then be fed into a computer that can identify not just the make and model of the vehicle but also notify you of potential high-risk behavior.
If some people are already creeped out by street mapping cars or outright police cameras, this new mod could trigger their paranoia for every Tesla car they pass on the road. Elon Musk’s creations, however, shouldn’t be singled out as every car that offers semi or fully autonomous features are equipped with the same hardware. Security researcher Truman Kain, however, chose the Model S for its Autopilot and Sentry features.
The mod, basically an NVIDIA Jetson Xavier mini-computer, can connect to othe car’s USB and gather everything that the cameras see around the car. Applying off-the-shelf and open source frameworks, the system can identify the car and even look up the plates. It might not take too much work for others to use that information to look up owners but Kain isn’t going to do that.
The researcher is aware that his mod can be used for almost criminal purposes but he poises it as a tool for the security-inclined. Especially people on the verge of paranoia. He demonstrates how the Surveillance Detection Scout, the name he gives the modded Model S, can not only identify cars but can identify repeated sightings, marking where they were seen and, from that, suggest if it’s a high-risk vehicle.
The Jetson mini costs $700 so it’s not going to be an easy commodity to acquire. It does, however, demonstrate how seemingly innocent hardware can be used for other purposes. This could, in turn, force car makers to further lock down their systems but that could also simply tempt hackers to step up their game as well.