Owners Hack Tesla Model S Electric Car: Tesla Politely Asks Them To Stop

Let’s face it: the Tesla Model S electric car is one of the world’s most advanced automobiles thanks to its powerful on-board computer control systems, fully-integrated telematics and customisable 17-inch touchscreen centre console.

Don't try to hack your Tesla Model S: Tesla knows when you do...

Don’t try to hack your Tesla Model S: Tesla knows when you do…

With that in mind, we’ve always felt it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to access all that raw computing power. So it’s no surprise  that some enterprising Tesla Model S fans have done just that — plugging into a custom Ethernet port inside their luxury electric sedans.

But one hacking Model S owner got more than he bargained for when he tapped into his car’s 17-inch telematics and used his Linux coding foo to fire up a bog-standard web browser: a polite request to stop what he was doing, direct from Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA]

Taking a peek

As DragTimes (via GreenCarReportsdetails, some of the more tech-savvy tinkerers over at the TeslaMotorsClub have been connecting computers to a hidden diagnostics port on the left-hand side of their car’s dash. While the connector itself might not be easily recognisable as a networking port to most folks, it is in fact an industrial version of an Ethernet port, a telecommunications standard that serves to link one or more computers together.

Armed with home-made adaptor cables and a large shot of daring, these small subset of Tesla Model S owners have been connecting their computers to their all-electric Model S cars in an attempt to see just what’s possible.

Ubuntu under the hood

So far, these tinkering Model S owners have found a total of seven networking ports open on their cars at a local level. These include basic web-services like telnet, a basic web server, X11, ssh, and file server.

According to the Tesla Hackers, your Model S runs a special version of Ubuntu.

According to the Tesla Hackers, your Model S runs a special version of Ubuntu.

Those who have looked claim the Model S’ operating system seems to be based on a special variant of Ubuntu, a Debian-based Linux operating system.

Apparently, these open ports allowed connected users to not only see a webpage displaying current track information, but also allowed them to display a remote Firefox browser window on the electric car’s 17-inch touchscreen display.


While these little exploratory investigations into the Tesla Model S’ onboard computer systems were done locally — ie., they were done by physically connecting a home-built cable between the car and a laptop —  the connections did not go unnoticed.

Shortly after hacking into their car, one Tesla Model S owner was contacted by the Californian automaker, detailing what it believed was a ‘tentative hacking attempt’ on their car. The owner was told that the attempts could be seen as an industrial espionage attack, and politely asked to refrain from doing it again as ignoring the warning would invalidate the car’s warranty.

Want to protect your electric car from hackers? Follow these five simple tips.

Right to tinker?

Here at Transport Evolved, we support the notion that electric car owners should understand what’s going on inside their car. However, we have to caution that this level of tinkering is perhaps a little too extreme, especially in a car as interconnected as the Tesla Model S.

Looking forward, we hope Tesla sees this opportunity as a chance to launch some form of official App Store and coding API for the Model S, something Tesla has been talking about for a while. In that way, those with the knowledge could work with — not separate from — Tesla in order to develop and improve the Model S ownership experience.

If you want to add functionality to your Tesla, this 'fake setting screen' may be the only sensible way for now...

If you want to add functionality to your Tesla, this ‘fake setting screen’ may be the only sensible way for now…

We’re also pleased to see that Tesla’s tech team — which seems to rather carefully monitor its cars for security breaches — certainly seems to act swiftly to any hacking attempts, at least at the local level.  It’s also worth noting that so far, these hacking attempts have only been successful when physically connected to the car, not connected via Tesla’s telematics service.

Do you think Tesla Model S owners — or any electric car owners — should have the right to connect to their car’s internal computer systems? Or do you think Tesla and other automakers are right to be cautious about letting owners tinker?

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • You own the car; you have every right to tinker with it.nnBut Tesla certainly has the right to void your warranty if you do so.n

    • Peter Henderickson

      I agree with you! I just hope they don’t “brick” the car so to speak.

    • Peter Henderickson

      If I pay $100,000 for something, im gona want to tinker with it

  • patman7

    Do all your hacking in an underground garage or heavily shielded garage. I guess the car is wifi to a sat.

    • JuanTek

      Faraday cage

  • camosoul

    I’d simply like to remove all the GPS spying… Maybe add some of the features they charge thousands to turn on when the car is already capable and handicapped. No major changes or modifications. Remaining within the framework they already have, just delete a log file and turn on some stuff. I do as I please with my smartphones, too. My property is mine. Tesla seems to be less heavy-handed about it than Apple has been.

  • sandy222

    Why would you even give a *** Nikki when all you’ve even been and will be is a wannabe Tesla owner ??? Just another pointless “article” from a hacker, I mean, blogger.

    • Ad van der Meer

      Wow Sandy, what is this hate all about? I am sure Nikki is a wannabe Tesla owner, but so am I. I’d be shocked if you did not want to own a Tesla owner, but hey, that’s just my treehugging brain farthing.nI think the articles addresses a serious problem and as such is a contribution in the discussion whether or not an owner should be allowed to mess with the software of the car.nI would understand if you would attack the position Nikki takes in this article, but without any substance in your “comment” it’s just another anonymus hateful comment like so many cowardly garbage on the internet.nI would like to invite to explain why you think this article is pointless. Maybe you are right and I am wrong.

  • Richard Goldsmith

    I would think that the software in a modern car like the Tesla would be so integrated with safety aspects of the car’s operation that all insurance would be invalid as well as the warranty. It would be possible to remove the road-worthiness of the car, and the difficulty would be proving whether any modifications did or did not compromise any safety systems. I also do not think Teslas point about industrial espionage is without any foundation, and they have a right to keep some parts confidential. It would be nice if they could provide some firewalled sanctioned access to non-operational software areas via a designated port, so they can ensure no vehicle safety is affected but owners can satisfy the desire to personalise their property. The real point is that car is theirs ( the hardware) but the software is not – just like in computers – they have a license to use it is all.

    • Daniele Elaborati

      Read the GNU licence agreement ( which comes with every linux distribution) And you will understand why software made upon it can’t be released under propietary licence . But one thing remain sure. Not even try to tinker with something so complicated as a management system like this, unless you’re one of the developers that knows what to do . If something goes wrong and you have an accident , in that case Tesla has the right to call itself out , since the system has been modified without their aknowledgement. But they can’t claim any kind of intellectual property on the system.

      • Nick Bailey

        Of course you can write proprietary software which runs on Linux. You just have to link it against non-GPL licensed libraries. There is even the lesser GPL which lets you use the library without releasing your program’s source code. That’s why Linux is _everywhere_ (phones, lifts, yes, video hard disk recorders…). They only have to make public changes made to the GPL code. They can choose any conditions they like for their own. GPL says “if you use our stuff you must make all the GPL code available with your product and the product must also be GPL”. But there are many applications which will run on Linux which are not themselves GPL licensed.

  • just someone old

    On one of Elon’s talks, he told that an sdk was unlikely. He saw more future in a feature as Chromecast or Airplay

  • Peter Henderickson

    I was expecting tesla to have their own OS tho

  • neroden

    Since Tesla’s running Ubuntu, the car owners have the absolute legal right to hack the car. It’s guaranteed by the open-source licenses on the Ubuntu software. Tesla’s actually breaking the copyright licenses, which is going to get them into big trouble eventually.

    Of course, any hacking voids the warranty, that’s only fair.

  • pqowie313

    I think the main reason they don’t want people getting into it isn’t really because they actually care, but because they know how hard it is to get regulatory bodies to agree to new concepts in car design. Look at how long it took them to decide that sealed-beam headlights weren’t the ultimate headlight, and that no future development could possibly be better. Tesla simply knows that people tinkering with their cars would change the whole idea of how owners interact with their car, and that regulators’ first response to any paradigm shift is to ban it.

  • Graham Nicholls

    Interesting. There’s a few things this makes me think about.
    1)If I own a router, laptop, pc, smart phone I am more than legally able to test its security and basically run my own (or hire a firm), exploration and penetration testing . how is this different apart from warranty complexities.
    2)if based on ubuntu there may be license issues regarding disclosure, open source v’s proprietary v’s hybrid?.
    3)elsewhere I discovered that Linux sits above critical embedded systems (the article stated you could disable the whole touchscreen/infotainment system and still remain in complete control of the vehicle with all safety functions). where is the line drawn between appliance/automotive technicalities?
    4) if I weld some stuff under the back of my car, I’m to blame if it fails. If I tinker with software, I’m also to blame. I’m thinking Tesla was pretty smart about this.