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In the run up to this year’s DEF CON, major car hacks seem to be a recurring theme. A few weeks ago we saw how hackers were able to remotely take control and shut down Chrysler vehicles — now Tesla’s Model S is the latest target. Researchers have figured out a way to digitally "hot wire" a Model S, Wired reports. They can also plant a Trojan that allows them to remotely control the car, including shutting it down. It’s a sign that even the most technologically advanced car in the world will never be fully safe from security vulnerabilities. But while Chrysler had to issue a "voluntary safety recall" (in the form of a software update on a USB stick) for 1.4 million affected vehicles, Tesla has already sent out a fix to all Model S owners with an over-the-air update. Look at it this way: In one day every Model S owner is protected against these hacks, whereas it’ll take much longer for the majority of Chrysler owners to get their patch (and there’s a good chance it’ll never reach them all).
It’s also not as if these hacks were easy to pull off. They require getting physical access to a Model S, which means potential attackers would have to deal with the car’s security system first. The researchers, Lookout Security CTO Kevin Mahaffey and Cloudflare head security researcher Marc Rogers, used a network cable behind the Model S’ dashboard to plug in a laptop and get access to the car’s infotainment system. They then spent two years digging into the car’s architecture, ultimately digging up six vulnerabilities that they helped Tesla resolve. They’ll be discussing their findings at DEF CON this week.
The researchers also point to a few other elements of Tesla’s architecture that makes it more secure than other car firms: It keeps the infotainment and drive systems completely separate (which wasn’t the case for Chrysler’s vehicles), and it also developed a graceful way for its cars to stop when they lose power. While there are still potential issues with Tesla’s technology — the researchers aren’t clear how safe the car’s drive system is from remote hacks — this hack shows it’s still got a leg up on the competition when it comes to security.
Tags: hacks, ModelS, Tesla