Researchers from the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) group at the KU Leuven university in Belgium have demonstrated that a Tesla Model X can be stolen in minutes by exploiting vulnerabilities in the car’s keyless entry system.
The vulnerabilities exploited in the attack were reported to Tesla in mid-August and they were patched recently by the electric car maker with an over-the-air update (version 2020.48) that is currently being rolled out to vehicles.
The attack method identified by the COSIC researchers targets the Tesla Model X key fob, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate with the vehicle. They discovered that the BLE interface allows the software running on the Bluetooth chip to be updated remotely, but this updating mechanism was not protected properly.
The researchers used a modified Model X electronic control unit (ECU) to force the victim’s key fob to advertise itself as a connectable Bluetooth device. They then exploited the update mechanism to push a malicious firmware update to the fob, which enabled them to obtain a piece of data that would allow them to unlock the car at any time.
Once the car was unlocked, they could connect to its diagnostics interface just like a service technician and pair a modified key fob with the vehicle. This gave the researchers permanent access to the Model X and allowed them to drive off.
The researchers said the attack only took a few minutes to conduct and it required roughly $200 worth of equipment, including the ECU, a Raspberry Pi, a CAN shield, a battery, and a key fob.
A video has been published to show how the attack works:
This was not the first time the COSIC research group targeted a Tesla. Back in 2018, they showed how the key fob of a Model S could be cloned in seconds. In 2019, they demonstrated another way to clone the Model S key fob, but they believed this method affected other luxury vehicles as well.
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