When a new high-tech product or piece of software hits the market, the inevitable next thing is that hackers try to find its weak points. Although Tesla likely employed its own hackers in developing the Autopilot program on its Model S electric cars, the released version (and its subsequent updates) are anything but foolproof. A Chinese research team became the latest group to successfully hack a Tesla but, unlike their predecessors who usually sit in the back seat or just outside the car, they were able to take control of the vehicle from a staggering 12 miles away.
Keen Security Lab researchers Samuel LV, Sen Nie, Ling Liu and Wen Lu successfully hacked a Tesla Model S P85 and Model 75D from 12 miles away, and they think they could perform the same remote attack on other models. The team targeted the car’s controller area network, or Can bus, the “brain” that controls all sorts of functions on nearly every modern car. The team managed to gain control over the car’s brakes, door locks, and other electronic features that a malicious hacker could use to cause serious damage, or even a fatal collision.
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Additionally, the security researchers gained control of features that could be used to simply annoy a driver incessantly. From 12 miles away, the team could move the seats back and forth, engage the indicator lights, control wing mirrors and windshield wipers. They could even open the sunroof and trunk, while the car was driving as well as parked. The Keen team notified Tesla about the vulnerability before it hit the headlines.
Tesla was quick to develop a software patch to protect against this type of hack attack, and has already deployed it over-the-air to affected models. “The issue demonstrated is only triggered when the web browser is used, and also required the car to be physically near to and connected to a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot,” said the company in a statement. “Our realistic estimate is that the risk to our customers was very low, but this did not stop us from responding quickly.”
Lead image via Tesla Motors