Tesla cars are among the most popular electric vehicles on the road. The cars can reach the same speeds and mileage of traditional gas-powered vehicles. However, recent news may make you worried if your car can get hacked.
Hackers can hack into a Tesla vehicle the same way they can get into any vehicle with an on-board computer. The main difference is the available vulnerable subsystems and what they control. With the right subsystem, someone can stop your vehicle anywhere and at any time or do something worse.
Luckily, all modern vehicles, including all Tesla models, come equipped with several safety measures to reduce the risk of cyberattacks. While not perfect, they can keep you in control of your vehicle, provided you know how to use them.
How Hackers Attack Tesla Cars
A hacker can do a lot to a motor vehicle, whether it was from Tesla or not. All modern vehicles have some computer that helps you drive and maintain them. While they could shut off your engine in the middle of a busy highway, their options do not end there. With a compromised computer, a hacker can take complete control over everything in your vehicle.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System
The tire monitors reveal the current pressure in your tires, revealing if they are too low or too high. Hackers can give you false readings or track where you are.
While this brake computer lets you smoothly slow down, it also creates an attack vector for hackers. A successful attack can either disable your breaks or shut down the engine completely.
The vehicle diagnostic system is supposed to protect your Tesla investment by helping repair shop technicians troubleshoot your vehicle. However, a corrupted system can create false readings, leading to higher service costs.
A skilled hacker can take control of every feature on your Tesla’s dashboard and instrument cluster. They can alter the clock change your song or station on your radio, or mess with your GPS. They can even control your air conditioner and seat warmers.
Any hacker that can take control of your vehicle’s transmission to lock your car in drive or at a certain speed. They can even take control of the steering. They can also activate airbags and other features remotely.
Other Vulnerable Systems
Beyond the basic systems, depending on your model of Tesla, a hacker can take control of your door locks, windshield wipers, and any other aftermarket feature you added to your vehicle.
How a Hacker Can Get into Your Tesla’s Computer
All a hacker must do is find some way into the car’s on-board computer system to run havoc on the vehicle and your life. The attack methods may vary between Tesla models, but every vehicle is vulnerable is some way.
For instance, malware can come attached to the GPS signal or the diagnostics system. Hackers can use these systems to track where you live, work, or where your children go to school.
Other common ways a hacker can break into your Tesla is the external media you bring inside, such as MP3 files, your phone, or any dashboard app. They can even break into your car’s computer through the built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Tesla has other vulnerable features as well. For example, a typical Model S has removable memory cards, a USB port, an ethernet port, and several external diagnostics connectors. You can easily install malware through all of them using compromised equipment.
Most of these vulnerabilities require direct access to the various components of the vehicle and are inaccessible remotely. However, you can still use them to find the remote network login parameters for your vehicle.
Thus, most hacking attempts against Tesla vehicles include multi-stage attacks to break into Tesla’s computer system and gain access to your vehicle. These attacks start with getting you to accidentally insert malware into your vehicle or to compromise the diagnostic equipment used to troubleshoot it.
How to Protect Your Tesla Vehicle from Hackers
While a hacker can theoretically take control over your Tesla, they must break into it first. Therefore, you can protect your vehicle and your family by taking the necessary security precautions to reduce or eliminate any vulnerabilities.
Tesla even did much of the work for you. Tesla vehicles are among the most secure, well-designed electric vehicles on the road. Most of their vehicles require direct physical hacking to make any headway.
Sure, there are a few ways to break into the computers remotely, but they all require information you can only get from inside the vehicles. Even then, Tesla offers frequent security updates that fix newly discovered vulnerabilities before anyone can use them.
Still, cybersecurity is never perfect, and your vehicle remains at risk despite event effort from Tesla to protect it. Therefore, you must join the fight as well. Luckily, there are six simple steps you can do to reduce the hacking risk of your vehicle.
Stay in Contact with Tesla
The simplest way to keep your vehicle secure is to keep in touch with Tesla. They can warn you about new possible threats as well as fix any problems that may arise. They can offer recalls if necessary.
While you want to ensure Tesla customer service has your current contact information, you may also want to write down your vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and keep it on you. The VIN can let you see if your vehicle is on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall page and other government and industry news sites.
Keep Your Car’s Software Up to Date
When Tesla issues software updates for your vehicle, you should install them as soon as possible. The updates will remove the bugs hackers exploit to gain control of your vehicle.
Secure Your Keyless Fob
The keyless feature of your Tesla lets you safely open your car’s door, but it also gives hackers that same access. The fob emits a constant signal a thief can hack and amplify. They can then track your car into seeing them like you.
Therefore, you want to store your car remote someone safe and secure such as a fridge or a faraday bag. These measures you block the signal, keeping the thieves out of your vehicle.
Shut Off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi When Not in Use
Hackers typically use the wireless connectivity of your vehicle to break into its computer. Therefore, you can reduce your vulnerability by removing that connectivity when you are not using it. That means you should turn off your Tesla’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you leave your vehicle or whenever you are not using them.
Secure Your Car’s Wi-Fi Password
If you need Wi-Fi, you can reduce your vulnerability by keeping the password secure. Never leave it in your vehicle for any reason, and keep the number of people who know it low.
Scan Your USB Devices Before Plugging Them into Your Tesla
Another common attack vector is through the devices you connect to your cars, such as a USB drive or your smartphone. Therefore, you want to ensure these devices are clear of any potential malware before you connect them up.
Like any vehicle, Tesla cars are vulnerable to hacking despite the many attempts Tesla has done to keep you safe. Hackers can break into your vehicle through a variety of means, most of which require tricking you into giving them access. With a few simple steps, you can keep the thieves out of your vehicle.