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Hackers Crack Tesla Model S Keyless Ignition

International Business Times logo International Business Times 9/11/2018 Alex Perry

a car parked in a parking lot © Provided by IBT US

Electric car manufacturer Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) has dealt with its share of scandals and controversies, some of which involved the company’s electric vehicles and many of which did not. The latest problem came to light Monday, when a group of researchers from Belgium’s KU Leuven University reported that they had found a way to easily hack the Tesla Model S’s keyless ignition, Wired reported.

Like many modern vehicles, the Model S is unlocked and started by a key fob that sends an encrypted signal to the car to start it, rather than by inserting and turning a key. KU Leuven’s team of hackers spent several months trying to crack the system, and they were successful. After reverse-engineering the keyless entry system, they were able to clone the key fob signal in less than two seconds using around $600 worth of gear, per Wired.

They also released a short video demonstration of the hypothetical car theft process. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of KU Leuven’s findings is that the cloned key fob can be used more than once, allowing the hacker to continue driving the Model S.

The good news for Model S owners is that Tesla was alerted to the security crack more than a year ago. A recent update added the ability to lock the Model S behind a four-digit PIN code, similar to unlocking a smartphone, as an added measure of authentication. Aside from that, any Model S made after June 2018 should be immune to the attack.

Model S owners who got their cars before June may want to turn on the PIN code function to avoid potential car thefts. The key fob tech was designed by a firm called Pektron, who made similar tech for auto manufacturers like McLaren.

a car parked in a parking lot © Provided by IBT US

Keyless ignition has become more standard in cars in recent years, but it does not come without flaws. Aside from hacking concerns like what KU Leuven found, some car owners have actually died because they forgot to turn their cars off. The engine kept running in enclosed spaces, like garages, which led to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The security flaw in the Model S was caught and remedied before it became a widespread issue, but it could be seen as another hurdle on Tesla’s path to profitability. In recent months, the electric car manufacturer has dealt with everything from PR scandals involving CEO Elon Musk to the departures of multiple high-level executives.

Shares of Tesla dropped by more than 2.7 percent on Tuesday afternoon.

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