With fully-interconnected computer systems and the ability to update its onboard operating system via over-the-air updates, the Tesla Model S electric car is undeniably the most Internet connected car in production today. And as security researchers in China proved last year, while the always-on Internet connectivity of the Tesla Model S gives Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] the ability to remotely diagnose and fix problems without ever seeing the car and customers the ability to gain the latest information on Supercharger availability and traffic information, it also exposes the car to computer hackers.
To date, Tesla Motors has been pretty proactive in encouraging security professionals to submit security vulnerabilities directly to the company. Tesla even has what it calls its Tesla Security Researcher Hall of Fame to thank those who have helped it patch any security problems so far, and even openly recruited last year at the annual DefCon white hat security conference to help keep its cars and its customers’ data safe.
Tesla will return to DefCon this year, looking to engage security professionals in its efforts to stay one step ahead of hackers
This year, in keeping with other major automakers and software companies who all have booths at DefCon, Tesla will return, looking to engage security professionals in its efforts to stay one step ahead of hackers as the mainstream media becomes ever-focused on finding out just how secure our cars really are.
But despite reports claiming that it will be offering attendees the chance to openly probe its Model S electric car for exploits on the show floor, Tesla maintains that its purpose at the event will be for information and recruitment, rather than encouraging hacker attacks.
The claims that Tesla was to open its Model S systems to hackers comes from unnamed sources at the automaker, which Forbes’ writer Thomas Fox-Brewster — who claimed Tesla was opening the Model S up to hackers last month — says are 100 percent reliable.
That claim has done the rounds on many other media sites, but it’s worth noting that Tesla is steadfast in its denial of that particular rumor.
“We do plan to have a presence at the conference (and Model S will be on display) as part of our recruiting efforts,” noted a Tesla spokesperson. “Members of Tesla’s security look forward to attending to talk about the security of our cars [and] the work the team does.”
Forbes says Tesla will also have a booth in the so-called Car Hacking Village: an area of the conference dedicated to discussing automotive vehicle exploits. Tesla has confirmed this, but denied that there will be a vehicle or any Tesla equipment there for attendees to try and play with.
Yet Fox-Brewster stands by his claims, saying that his sources claim various connected systems and components — rather than the entire vehicle — will be the focus of any hacking attempts.
While we can’t say for sure if Tesla will or won’t offer official (or unofficial) hacking competitions to attendees at DefCon, we can tell you one thing for sure: when the event kicks off on August 6, those there will certainly have vehicular hacking at the forefront of their minds.
That’s because at this year’s DefCon, security hackers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller will show off a new security hack that grants remote access of a vehicle using a Controller Area Network (CAN) exploit. Present in production cars since the late 1990s, CAN allows different parts of a car to talk to one another, and has become increasingly overloaded in recent years as automotive technology evolves to offer more and more functionality and interconnectivity.
We’re guessing Tesla will experience at least some hacking attempts — authorised or not
At both DefCon and the BlackHat 2015 conference which takes a few days earlier — also in Las Vegas — we’re guessing plenty of talk will focus on the various ways hackers can gain unauthorised access to vehicles. Given the recent media attention given to cybersecurity expert Chris Roberts, who recently came under investigation from the FBI after claiming via Twitter that he had access to the on-board systems of the Boeing 737 he was flying on, transportation security is probably one of the biggest topics in the security profession right now.
Given its high prominence at DefCon. Regardless of how those attacks happen however, there’s one thing we’re sure of.
Tesla — like other automakers — will need to be hot on the heels of any security exploit that happens to be discovered.
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