In the second car-hack fix in a month, car manufacturer Tesla released an over-the-air update for its Model S car, after security researchers Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer of Lookout, and Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at Cloudflare demonstrated the hack to delegates at the cyber security conference Def Con in Las Vegas on Friday. The over-air fix could also be used for any future patches the company confirmed.
In contrast, last month following hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrating taking control of a Jeep via a flaw in its uConnect in-vehicle infotainment system, in perhaps the most high-profile ‘internet of things' hack since Stuxnet, Fiat Chrysler sent a software fix on a USB stick to 1.4 million Jeep Chrysler owners...
During the Tesla demo hack Mahaffey said: "My colleague Marc Rogers and I set out to audit the security of the Tesla Model S because we wanted to shine a light on a car that we hypothesised would have a strong security architecture, given the Tesla's team's deep software experience." During the event Tesla co-founder JB Straubel responded: “You're making the product better and safer."
A Tesla spokesman was reported by the BBC as saying: “Our well-developed safeguards protect every layer of our vehicle and network security system, including for the mobile app, Tesla's servers, and the car itself.
"Through our responsible reporting process, a dedicated team of top-notch Tesla security professionals works closely with the researcher community to ensure that we continue to protect our systems against vulnerabilities by constantly stress-testing, validating, and updating our safeguards."
For the Tesla hack researchers had to physically access the Model S where six security flaws – all now fixed - allowed them to insert a Trojan to access to the instrument cluster above the steering wheel, and the touchscreen dashboard information display; they were then able to remotely start and stop the car, open and close the boot, as well as lock and unlock the doors. However, the car would slow down gradually when its engine was turned off and not just come to a sudden halt.
Rogers noted that: "With embedded systems like you find in cars, you cannot control who has access to it. Someone can take it home and apply any tool they want to it."
The researchers suggested that Tesla still had work to do to ensure a strict separation between its entertainment system and the car controls.
BlackBerry responded to rumours that its software might have been at fault in the earlier Jeep hack as the underlying operating system that powers uConnect is QNX Neutrino, a real-time OS that's made by a BlackBerry subsidiary, saying in its blog: "We can state unequivocally that it is not,"
In the blog, ‘QNX Neutrino OS: Far from the Hack. #BBFactCheck is setting the record straight for Seeking Alpha' it adds: “It looks like a class-action lawsuit is on the way, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is apparently studying the issue, with a report to come.”
It adds that QNX has shipped in more than 60 million vehicles and in this case, the vulnerability came about “through certain architecture and software components that are unrelated to the QNX Neutrino OS,” adding that the two security researchers who uncovered the vulnerability have “clearly demonstrated that the weakness exploited is not due to the QNX Neutrino OS.”
It also says that the the infotainment system supplier and the cellular carrier that connects these vehicles to the Internet have already implemented measures to block unauthorized entry to affected systems.