Two researchers have shown how a Tesla and probably other cars can be remotely hacked without the involvement of the operator.
Ralf-Philipp Weinmann of Kunnamon and Benedikt Schmotzle of Comsecuris conducted research last year that led to this conclusion. The investigation was conducted for the Pwn2Own 2020 hacking competition, which offered a car and other substantial prizes for hacking a Tesla, but the results were later submitted to Tesla via its bug bounty programme after Pwn2Own organizers planned to temporarily exclude the automotive category due to the coronavirus pandemic.
TBONE is an attack that includes exploitation of two vulnerabilities in ConnMan, an internet connection manager for embedded devices. An intruder may use these bugs to take complete control of Tesla’s infotainment system without requiring any user interaction.
A hacker who exploits the vulnerabilities may use the infotainment system to perform any normal user task. This involves things like opening doors, adjusting seat positions, playing music, regulating the air conditioning, and changing the steering and acceleration modes.
The researchers explained, “However, this attack does not yield drive control of the car”. They presented how an intruder could use a drone to launch a Wi-Fi assault on a parked car and open its doors from up to 100 meters away (roughly 300 feet). The exploit, they said, worked on Tesla S, 3, X, and Y models.
“Adding a privilege escalation exploit such as CVE-2021-3347 to TBONE would allow us to load new Wi-Fi firmware in the Tesla car, turning it into an access point which could be used to exploit other Tesla cars that come into the victim car’s proximity. We did not want to weaponize this exploit into a worm, however,” Weinmann stated.
Tesla apparently stopped using ConnMan after patching the vulnerabilities with an update released in October 2020. Intel was also notified because it was the original creator of ConnMan, but according to the researchers, the chipmaker believed it was not its responsibility.
According to the researchers, the ConnMan component is commonly used in the automotive industry, suggesting that similar attacks may be launched against other vehicles as well. Weinmann and Schmotzle sought assistance from Germany’s national CERT in informing potentially affected vendors, but it’s uncertain if other manufacturers have responded to the researchers’ findings.
Earlier this year, the researchers presented their results at the CanSecWest meeting. A video of them using a drone to hack a Tesla is also included in the presentation. In recent years, several corporations’ cybersecurity researchers have shown that a Tesla can be hacked, in most cases remotely.
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