nav search
Data Center Software Security Transformation DevOps Business Personal Tech Science Emergent Tech Bootnotes BOFH

Grand App Auto: Tesla smartphone hack can track, locate, unlock, and start cars

Musk's lot better get on this

By John Leyden, 25 Nov 2016

A smartphone app flaw has left Tesla vehicles vulnerable to being tracked, located, unlocked, and stolen.

Security experts at Norwegian app security firm Promon were able to take full control of a Tesla vehicle, including finding where the car is parked, opening the door and enabling its keyless driving functionality. A lack of security in the Tesla smartphone app opened the door to all manner of exploits, as explained in a blog post here. The cyber-attack unearthed by Promon provides additional functionality to that exposed by Keen Security Labs in a different hack in late September.

Tom Lysemose Hansen, founder and CTO at Promon, said: "Keen Security Labs' recent research exploited flaws in the CAN bus systems of Tesla vehicles, enabling them to take control of a limited number of functions of the car. Our test is the first one to use the Tesla app as an entry point, and goes a step further by showing that a compromised app can lead directly to the theft of a car."

One way for the hack to work is for cybercriminals to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot, likely close to a public Tesla charging point. When Tesla users log in and visit a page, an advert targeting car owners appears, offering an incentive such as a free meal or coffee. When clicking this link and downloading the accompanying app, hackers can gain access to the user's mobile device, allowing them to attack the Tesla app and obtain usernames and passwords.

Youtube Video

In an update, Promon outlines the many and varied security shortcomings of Tesla's app.

This attack is not Tesla specific, and can in generalised form be used against any app. However, the Tesla app did not offer any kind of resistance which would require time-consuming effort to exploit.

One thing that stood out was that the OAuth token is stored in plain text – absolutely no attempts have been made to encrypt it, or otherwise protect it. Getting access to this one piece of data alone will get you the location of the car, ability to track the car and being able to unlock the car.

Driving off with the car requires the username and password in addition, which was very easy to do since the application did not detect that it had been modified to add malware-like behaviour that would send the credentials out of the app to a server.

"If Tesla had followed best practice in security (e.g. as recommended by the Open Web Application Security Project), including applying self-protecting capabilities inside the app, it would have required much higher technical skills – and much more effort – to perform such an attack," according to Promon. The Norwegian app security firm said that it was in "close dialogue with Tesla" in order to address these app security issues.

A Tesla spokesperson said "Tesla has never received a report of any car being stolen through a compromised app" and offered the statement below.

The report and video do not demonstrate any Tesla-specific vulnerabilities. This demonstration shows what most people intuitively know – if a phone is hacked, the applications on that phone may no longer be secure. The researchers showed that known social engineering techniques could be employed to trick people into installing malware on their Android devices, compromising their entire phone and all apps, which also includes their Tesla app. Tesla recommends users run the latest version of their mobile operating system.

John Smith, principal solutions architect at app security firm Veracode, commented: "With Tesla just recently remediating a vulnerability which allowed the car to be exploited remotely, this new security flaw leaves the car vulnerable to theft and highlights the plethora of challenges that car manufacturers now face as they introduce internet-connected services into the car. Vulnerable software is one of the most significant challenges faced by the automotive industry, with findings from a recent IDC report indicating that there could be a lag of up to three years before car security systems are protected from hackers.

"There are over 200 million lines of code in today's connected car, not to mention smartphone apps linked to the car. So it is essential that car manufacturers put security at the heart of the development strategy, rather than as an afterthought." ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing