The Tesla Model S may have many advantages over its competitors, but the ability to hack it could cause problems in the near future. It could be argued that Tesla vehicles are the most consumer connected on the planet, and this has ensured that they are a target for rogue computer experts.
As is natural for a company with a high-tech reputation, Tesla Motors has prided itself on sophisticated in-car systems. But the engineering processes involved in Tesla’s electric vehicles is particularly sophisticated, so this has led nefarious researchers from all over the world to obsessively search for weaknesses in its makeup.
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Hacking Model S for customization
However, the latest attempts to hack Tesla’s software and engineering are not completely motivated by foul means. Many hackers are seeking to open Tesla vehicles up to personal customization, much as smartphones are often jailbroken in order to allow more consumer choice.
Hackers conferences are now a notable aspect of the popular culture. And with the potential for particularly skilful programmers to attract attention from major corporations and even launch their own successful businesses, the incentive for young people to enter this niche are manifold. And Tesla vehicles are becoming increasingly popular subjects of such hacker conferences, with a Model S from Tesla considered a particular holy grail.
One such prominent conference is the Defcon event in August, and at this year’s event the Tesla Model S will be a significant focus of hackers’ efforts. Research by the group CloudFlare apparently enabled a series of unknown and unpatched vulnerabilities in the Tesla flagship vehicle.
Marc Rogers from CloudFare and Lookout co-founder Kevin Mahaffey have stated that they will reveal in the coming days precisely what these vulnerabilities are. This will enable Tesla owners all over the world to hack their own particular vehicles, assuming that the company doesn’t close the floodgates in the meantime. This is not inconceivable, as according to the researchers themselves, Tesla has already fixed one of the six bugs that the hackers discovered.
Model S at Defcon
The two computer experts were keen to emphasize ahead of the Defcon event that they didn’t advocate actually following their particular suggestions. A disclaimer on the Defcon website indicated that no-one affiliated with the conference would take any responsibility for any issues that arose from following any hacking advice. It is certainly possible for an inexperienced user to ‘brick’ the Model S by applying the hacking instructions incorrectly, and naturally the researchers wish to distance themselves from any such incident, not to mention any potential financial liability.
In addition to the Model S hack, these two talented individuals also intend to release an interesting tool. According to Rogers and Mahaffey, they will release a utility in the coming days that will make it easy for users to analyse data both consumed and emitted by the Model S vehicle. With such a public focus on data privacy, this will be particularly interesting information, and it is likely that Tesla would rather keep this internal.
Despite the efforts of the media to incite these two hackers to reveal more specific details regarding the Model S hack, both parties have indicated that no more information will be released ahead of the conference. Rogers told Forbes magazine that the talk the two will give during the Defcon event will be epic, and CloudFare has certainly gone some way to pricking public interest.
So-called black hat hacking has become increasingly prominent in recent years, perhaps above all else due to the Lizard Squad smashing of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One networks over the Christmas period of 2014. This demonstrated that relatively young and primitive hackers can take down the computer systems of large companies by delivering simple DDOS attacks, so more experienced and skilled hackers can naturally cause considerable embarrassment and discomfort.
In the case of CloudFare, they would argue that their hacking of the Model S is merely an attempt to enable consumer choice. Apple has fought a long legal battle against jailbreaking iPhones, and an unsuccessful battle at that, and hackers continue to be fascinated with this aspect of the smartphone, as it promises more customization options for what is probably the most popular piece of consumer electronics on the planet.
Peace on Planet Hacking
There is certainly no suggestion from the summation of the Defcon talk that the two hackers are anything other than Tesla enthusiasts. The CloudFare odd couple promise to walk attendees through the architecture of a Tesla Model S vehicle, and give their opinion on what the electric car manufacturer got right as well as wrong.
They promised that their talk will provide an intimate and profound understanding of the many interconnected systems contained in a Tesla Model S, and how they can specifically be hacked. The data collected by Tesla will also be revealed, along with what the electric car manufacturer actually does with this telemetry. The CloudFare hackers even went as far as praising Tesla for the work it had done on raising security in the Model S vehicle, and it is clear that they are not hostile towards the company.
Media has naturally approached Tesla for comment, but rather unsurprisingly the electric car manufacturer has declined to do so. It is not clear at the time of writing whether Tesla has given any form of informal blessing to this particular talk, but it seems extremely unlikely considering that it has never officially backed hacks of vehicles in the past. This is certainly an event that has the potential to cause some embarrassment to Tesla, even though many people attending it will actually be enthusiasts of the electric car company and its Model S vehicle.
However, Tesla will be attending the Defcon event in some capacity. It is reported that the electric car manufacturer will bring a Tesla model along in order to enable attendees to fiddle with it. As hacking becomes a more prominent part of the central popular culture, increasingly major companies are viewing playing ball with the hackers as a sensible PR move.