The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), an organization funded by the Dutch government, claims that it has decrypted driving data related to Tesla’s Autopilot. This gave it access to data related to speed, accelerator pedal positions, and steering wheel angle.
The Dutch government says that this will enable investigators working on wrecks that involve Tesla vehicles to “request more targeted data” about the cause of the wrecks.
Officials already suspect that the Autopilot was involved in several wrecks involving emergency vehicles, calling into question its ability to recognize a stopped vehicle with emergency lights activated. However, the Autopilot has also been ruled out as a contributing factor in a wreck in Texas that killed two men in April.
Researchers at the Netherlands Forensic Institute presented their findings at the 29th Annual Congress of the European Association for Accident Research.
They compared the driving data obtained through their decryption efforts with real-world driving data from a Tesla Model S and found that the two results did not deviate by much more than 1 km/h (about 0.6 MPH).
They also analyzed some driving data related to past crashes and found that the Autopilot did occasionally make errors such as following another vehicle that suddenly braked too closely. In cases like this, the driver did react correctly, but the Autopilot made the error.
They said of the results:
“These data contain a wealth of information for forensic investigators and traffic accident analysts and can help with a criminal investigation after a fatal traffic accident or an accident with injury.”
The NFI researchers say that the ability for a third party to decrypt the data will allow for more detailed investigations by giving them a better understanding of the data that automakers that develop driver assist programs like the Autopilot store.
Tesla recently encrypted Autopilot-related data to protect its IP and safeguard user privacy. The company has provided data to authorities to assist with crash investigations. Consumer advocacy groups like Consumer Reports have also expressed concerns about the data that Tesla’s interior cameras can send to a remote location.
Elon Musk announced last month that Tesla will work with regulators to improve data security. He expressed concern that hackers could access a Tesla’s computerized systems in the wake of the hacktivist group Arson Cats’ accessing of security cameras in a variety of facilities, including one used by a Tesla supplier in China.
“With the rapid growth of autonomous driving technologies, data security of vehicles is drawing more public concerns than ever before,” he told the audience at the World New Energy Vehicle Congress.
Hackers may also install malware and ransomware into the computerized systems of a vehicle equipped with driver assist programs. In some extreme cases once fully autonomous driving becomes the norm, malicious actors may take control of a vehicle to ram it into incoming traffic or a group of pedestrians, and the passengers of that vehicle wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
This may make it concerning that the Netherlands Forensic Institute made it public that driving data related to the Autopilot can be decrypted, even though the NFI says that its goal was to improve investigators’ efforts in “finding the truth after an accident.”