Tesla Model X entry system security flaw allows vehicles to be stolen in minutes

A security flaw in Tesla Inc.’s Model X keyless entry system has been found to allow a would-be hacker to steal the vehicle in minutes.

Discovered by Lennert Wouters, a Ph.D. student at COSIC, a research group at the University of Leuven in Belgium, the hack involves exploiting a vulnerability in the way Tesla implements Bluetooth Low Energy in their Model X key fobs including support for firmware updates. The group revealed the exploit today.

The technique involves using a modified electronic control unit from a salvaged Model X to force key fobs to advertise themselves as connectable BLE devices. The BLE interface was found to be not properly secured through the update mechanism, allowing for the wireless takeover of the key fob to obtain valid codes to unlock the car.

“With the ability to unlock the car we could then connect to the diagnostic interface normally used by service technicians, ” Wouters explains. “Because of a vulnerability in the implementation of the pairing protocol we can pair a modified key fob to the car, providing us with permanent access and the ability to drive off with the car.”

Wouters discovered the vulnerability in the northern summer and reported it to Tesla in August. Tesla is said to be pushing out a software update this week to address the vulnerability hence Wouters is now releasing the details.

This isn’t the first time Tesla’s have been shown to be hackable. Researchers from COSIC have previously detailed how the keyless entry on the Tesla Model S can also be hacked. Past examples of Tesla getting hacking remotely included brakes in 2016.

“Automotive key fob attacks are real-world threats with significant impacts for automobile manufactures, law enforcement, vehicle finance companies and drivers,” Jacob Wilson, senior security consultant at electronic design automation firm Synopsys Inc., told SiliconANGLE. “With consumer demand for Bluetooth and internet-connected vehicle functionality on the rise, it’s more important than ever to ensure these technologies are secure.”

The research, he added, demonstrates the impacts of security requirements and security features not having proper validation. “Having thorough software composition analysis and fuzz testing performed against embedded electronics provides a higher level of confidence to thwart these attacks,” he said.

Erich Kron, security awareness advocate at security awareness training firm KnowBe4 Inc. noted that the vulnerability helps illustrate how homes and vehicles have become more connected and as convenience features are added, the attack surface increases.

“Tesla did a great job quickly fixing the issue with an over the air update and the researcher showed responsible reporting ethics by notifying Tesla and allowing them to develop the fix before publicly releasing the vulnerability and the exploit,” Kron added.

Photo: Jakob Härter/Flickr

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