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Tesla Model S hacked by Chinese computer boffins

Remember we reported on a competition that challenged clever people to hack a Tesla Motors Model S? Well, it turns out the all-electric car is no match for one Chinese company, which was able to sneak its way in.

Qihoo 360 Technology said it had gained access to the Model S computer system during SyScan360, an annual hacking conference that has the motto “I hack, therefore I am”. The IT department of the company admitted the fact in a post on the Weibo social network.

Although exact details of the hack are unknown, Qihoo 360 Technology said it was able to flash the headlights, open the sunroof, unlock the doors and honk the horn and could do so while the vehicle was stationary or moving. 

A number of online reports claim it was the breaking of Tesla’s six-digit code, which is used for controlling the car via the official Tesla smartphone app, that made the hack possible. The app allows a Model S owner to remotely control certain functions of the car including the unlocking and locking the doors. 

Tesla said it would work to fix a “legitimate vulnerability” if one was discovered. Qihoo 360 Technology said it had reported its findings and would work with Tesla to fix the problem. 

“While Tesla is not associated with the conference and is not a sponsor of the competition, we support the idea of providing an environment in which responsible security researchers can help identify potential vulnerabilities. We hope that the security researchers will act responsibly and in good faith,” a Tesla spokesperson told Recombu Cars. 

“We take the security of our cars and customers seriously. We’re committed to working with the community to verify, reproduce, respond and fix vulnerabilities reported in a responsible manner pursuant to our Security Vulnerability Reporting Policy,” it added.

Car security expert Chris Miller, who spoke with tech website CNET, said he was unsurprised somebody was able to hack the Model S, adding that it was a little early to tell what the risks could be – if any – for owners. 

“I don’t think a lot of people realize that the systems that provide Bluetooth connections or navigation maps or your radio, have the ability to control physical aspects of our cars, like locks, speedometer, even braking and turning,” Miller explained. 

A prize of US$10,000 was offered to anyone who could hack a Tesla Model S and manipulate the car’s controls.

An FBI report obtained by the Guardian looked at the various dangers of self-driving cars and what criminals could do with access to a car’s computer.

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