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Security researchers from China remotely hacked a Tesla Model S

Published Sep 20th, 2016 8:47AM EDT
Tesla Model S Hack

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Following many months of research, security researchers out of China this week announced that they successfully managed to hack a Tesla Model S and assume control over many of the vehicle’s controls. The hack was disclosed by researchers from Keen Security Lab who noted that their remote exploit worked whether or not a targeted Model S was parked or driving.

The researchers note that the exploit works by compromising the car’s CAN bus, a process which begins when a targeted Model S user connects to a malicious Wi-Fi network via the car’s built-in web browser. Following that, the researchers demonstrated how they were able to remotely control many aspects of a hacked Model S, including being able to open the trunk, the sunroof, and perhaps most worrisome, apply the brakes whiles the car is in motion. In another dangerous scenario, researchers were able to change the orientation of the Tesla’s side-view mirrors while it was changing lanes.

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Being the good-hearted folks that they are, researchers at Keen Security Lab notified Tesla of the vulnerability and gave them ample time to fix it before going public with their research. That said, Tesla patched up the exploit when they rolled out their Firmware 7.1 update earlier this year.

In a statement provided to The Verge, Tesla said that the real-world risk the exploit posed to users was very low but that they nonetheless worked diligently to close the security hole as quickly as they could.

“We engage with the security research community to test the security of our products so that we can fix potential vulnerabilities before they result in issues for our customers,” Tesla’s statement reads in part. “We commend the research team behind today’s demonstration and plan to reward them under our bug bounty program, which was set up to encourage this type of research.”

So is there any reason to panic and rail against a future filled with electric cars? Not quite. Again, the attack-vector used by these researchers was extremely specific and was only unearthed after many months of research. As long as companies like Tesla remain vigilant and keep security as a top priority, we can hopefully drive to and fro without having to worry about our cars trying to kill us.

A video demonstration of the aforementioned hack in action can be seen below.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.