Hacked passwords can enable remote unlocking, tracking of Tesla cars

Tesla Motors accounts that enable remote car control are only protected by six-character passwords, researcher says

Tesla Motors accounts are protected only by simple passwords, making it easy for hackers to potentially track and unlock cars, according to a security researcher.

Tesla Model S owners need to create an account on teslamotors.com when they order their cars and the same account allows them to use an iOS app to remotely unlock the car's doors, locate it, close and open its roof, flash its lights or honk its horn.

Despite providing access to important car features, these accounts are only protected by a password with low-complexity requirements -- six characters long and at least one number and one letter -- a security researcher named Nitesh Dhanjani said Friday in a blog post.

The Tesla Motors site also doesn't seem to have an account lockout policy based on incorrect log-in attempts, which makes accounts registered on the site susceptible to brute-force password guessing attempts, Dhanjani said.

However, the brute-force attacks are just one potential threat. Tesla accounts could also be targeted through phishing and malware or could be compromised as a result of third-party password leaks if car owners reuse their passwords on multiple sites, the researcher said. In addition, if the email associated with a Tesla account is compromised, an attacker could simply reset the account's password because there are no other checks involved, like answering secret questions, he said.

The researcher also believes that in its current implementation, the Tesla REST API (application programming interface) used by the official iOS app to interact with the online service, can also pose a security risk.

The API can be used by third-party apps that require users to log in with their Tesla credentials, the researcher said. For example, one app called Tesla for Glass, which lets users monitor and control their cars through Google Glass, stores the user's credentials, he said.

This behavior is dangerous because if an intruder compromises the app's infrastructure, he could collect Tesla account credentials and abuse the remote car control functionality they enable, the researcher said.

Dhanjani believes Tesla Motors should should do more to protect accounts beyond using a static password and advises Tesla car owners to take precautions against potential security risks until that happens.

"Given the serious nature of this topic, we know we can't attempt to secure our vehicles the way we have attempted to secure our workstations at home in the past by relying on static passwords and trusted networks," Dhanjani said. "The implications to physical security and privacy in this context have raised stakes to the next level."

Tesla Motors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Automotive manufacturers though innovative in engineering can often oversee the security aspects just because there was no need to digitally safeguard cars in the past," said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at security firm Bitdefender. "While it may be true that the online account does not allow a potential attacker to control the car's critical systems, it could allow somebody to physically locate the car and unlock it."

Botezatu believes that Tesla accounts should require a second authentication factor when users attempt to authenticate from new devices or when their active sessions expire.

An increasing number of manufacturers allow users to remotely control their devices through cloud-based services. Devices with such functionality range from IP-based cameras to network-attached storage devices and home automation sensors.

It's unlikely that manufacturers will take a secure approach to designing so-called Internet-of-things devices anytime soon, Botezatu said, pointing out that at the moment most engineering efforts focus on functionality and battery performance.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online safetyTesla Motorssecurityphysical securityAccess control and authenticationExploits / vulnerabilitiesprivacybitdefender

More about Google

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place