Saturday 1 October 2016

Car owners get a cyber risk fix - without even having to go to a garage

Elliott Snyder and Jordan Robertson / Bloomberg

Published 22/09/2016 | 02:30

The Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S

Tesla Motors has released a software update to fix bugs that allowed Chinese 'white-hat hackers' to remotely break into the Model S' control system and disrupt actions including turn signals, seat positions, displays and the door lock system.

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"Our realistic estimate is that the risk to our customers was very low," a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. "But this did not stop us from responding quickly."

Cyber-security researchers from Keen Security Lab, a unit of China's Tencent Holdings, published a video and a blog post on Monday in which they showed how they were able to remotely infiltrate the Model S' controller area network bus, which is responsible for intra-auto computer communication. This allowed them to manipulate safety controls, such as the door locks and the braking system.

Unlike most carmakers, Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, can push out security fixes "over the air" and directly into its cars' computer systems, without customers ever needing to visit a garage. The software update was deployed within 10 days of receiving the report, Tesla said.

"That kind of speed on a system that complex is amazing, said Casey Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Bugcrowd, a San Francisco-based company that runs "bug bounty" programs to close cyber-security weaknesses at companies including Tesla. The over-the-air fixes "means the risk from these vulnerabilities has been reduced to pretty close to zero across the user base", he said.

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