Someone Hired Hackers to Steal Baidu’s Self-Driving Car Secrets

The Chinese tech giant’s work on driverless cars was the unsuccessful target of a data breach.

byRob Stumpf| UPDATED Mar 22, 2017 10:02 AM
Someone Hired Hackers to Steal Baidu’s Self-Driving Car Secrets

Baidu is essentially the China-born equivalent of Google, offering services like cloud storage, image/video search, maps, news, social networking, and more. But just like Google, Baidu likes to have its hand in multiple venture capital projects. The tech giant has revealed that a group of hackers were hired (not randomly attack, but rather paid to breach their security) to perform a cyber-reconnaissance of Baidu's driverless car research.

Like many tech companies, transparency isn't the largest in a public announcement of a security breach, so details are fairly scarce. However, it is reported that the hack was unsuccessful, as no data was actually taken. 

Baidu has reached out to a group of students from Tsinghua University who are describing themselves as "whitehat hackers" (aka: the good guys). Surprisingly, the rival differences between Baidu and two of their competitors, Alibaba and Tencent, to investigate their security needs to prevent further security breaches.

In 2015, Baidu made noise in China when it sprang into action and sent a BMW 3 Series on its own journey across China. Its autonomous software, code named "AutoBrain" remained as the primary "driver" for just over one year prior to Baidu and BMW China splitting ways due to conflicting developmental ideologies. Baidu also stated that it plans to launch a shuttle service in 2018 which operates solely via autonomous vehicles. If successful, it aims to produce cars for the public within the next five years.

More recently, Baidu has dumped large amounts of money into the project. They have invested in a partnership with popular chipset manufacturer NVIDIA, as well as a lesser-known outfit called Velodyne, who manufacturers LiDAR products. It seems that their goal is to develop a completely new autonomous system with these two partners that will rival other auto manufacturers.

So why would hackers break through Baidu's system in order to steal some proprietary software? Simple. It's clearly worth big money, as they have years of extensive data on the subject. The only question is: Who is willing to accept risk by paying a group of hackers to steal it, and who has the drive to continue development?