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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