Tesla's master plan to rule our future roads is in full throttle. The introduction of the electric car company's first mass-production vehicle, the Model 3, earlier this year generated so much buzz that around 400,000 people have dropped the $1,000 reservation fee. Not bad for a car that won't even launch until late 2017.
The Tesla Model 3 is touted to be the most affordable self-driving electric car, bringing the company's car technology breakthroughs to the masses. AutoPilot, automatic steering, a radar system, remote summoning - these are just a few of the ultra hi-tech features that the Model 3 is promising to bring down to mass production price.
All this autonomous artificial intelligence and awareness, of course, will require connectivity and a large degree of computer control to be feasible. All future self-driving cars will have to be interconnected and synchronized for a large-scale deployment to take place.
But as with anything that involves interconnectivity and computers, the security of these car systems will be extremely vital. Any sort of compromise will not only endanger the passenger of one "smart" vehicle but all the other cars around it as well. And imagine what a large-scale remote hack of hundreds of autonomous cars will look like.
This is the sort of critical vulnerabilities a team of researchers from Tencent's Keen Security Lab exposed this week. With a technical demonstration, they revealed how Tesla's higher end model, the Model S, can be remotely hacked by exploiting a combination of security flaws in Tesla's vehicle software.
In a video the researchers posted online, they first showed how they can remotely attack then control a parked Model S vehicle's various parts such as the sunroof, the signal lights, the doors, the trunk and the car seat without any prior physical contact with the vehicle.
The second part of their demonstration showed how they can hijack a moving Model S and activate its windshield wipers, fold its side view mirrors, open the trunk and even operate the brakes from 12 miles away.
They claim that these hacks work on any unmodified Model S with the default firmware. Using a laptop and a network connection, they attack the Model S by exploiting a flaw in the car's web browser system if it happens to connect to a compromised Wi-Fi network.
Thankfully, the researchers have already submitted their findings to Tesla before they went public with the hacks. Within ten days of the exploit report, the car company is now rolling out an over-the-air security update to patch the exploit holes.
Although this is a relief for Tesla owners, this sets a very harrowing precedent if we are set to have an increasingly interconnected autonomous car future. What if a hacker with malicious intent deploys a zero-day exploit and manages to infect hundreds of self-driving cars on the road at the same time? That will be a dangerous scenario, indeed.
With these emerging car remote exploits and the advancements in vehicle technology, it is as critical as ever that automakers ensure that they shore up the security of their software and employ fail-safe override systems in case of compromise. Judging by these recent hacks, it looks like we still have a long way to go.
To learn more about how hacking car technology can pose a danger to the public, listen to our special Scared Sh!tless episode posted below.