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Tesla Hacked Twice at Pwn2Own Exploit Contest

Researchers at offensive hacking shop Synacktiv demonstrated successful exploit chains and were able to “fully compromise” Tesla’s newest electric car and take top billing at the annual Pwn2Own contest.

Tesla exposed images customers, suit alleges

Researchers at French offensive hacking shop Synacktiv have demonstrated a pair of successful exploit chains against Tesla’s newest electric car to take top billing at the annual Pwn2Own software exploitation contest.

Pwn2Own organizers confirmed the successful hacks exploited flaws in the Tesla-Gateway and Tesla-Infotainment sub-systems to “fully compromise” a new Tesla Model 3 vehicle.

The first Tesla hack, described as a TOCTOU (time-of-check to time-of-use) race condition, earned the hackers a $100,000 cash prize and ownership of the compromised car.  Synacktiv said the Tesla Model 3 gateway was fully compromised from the ethernet network.

SecurityWeek sources say Tesla security response team was on site at the event and validated the findings.  The company is expected to issue fixes via the vehicle’s self-updating system.

On the second day of the contest in Vancouver, Canada, Synacktiv’s researchers created an exploit chain that used a heap overflow and an out-of-band (OOB) write vulnerability to pop the Tesla-Infotainment system.  The hack was described as “Unconfined Root” and scored the Synacktiv team a $250,000 cash prize.

Tesla Exploits
Image credit: Zero Day Initiative

Because of the complex exploit chains used in the hack, Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), the organizers of Pwn2Own, qualified it as first ever Tier2 in award in Pwn2Own. “CONFIRMED! @Synacktiv used a heap overflow & an OOB write to exploit the Infotainment system on the Tesla,” ZDI announced on Twitter. “When they gave us the details, we determined they actually qualified for a Tier 2 award! They win $250,000 and 25 Master of Pwn points. 1st ever Tier 2 award. Stellar work!”.

In total, team Synacktiv won $530,000 and the Tesla Model 3 throughout the three-day hacking competition.

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This isn’t the first time Tesla has sought to attract the attention of advanced exploit writers at Pwn2Own. Back in 2019, the company gave away a Tesla Model 3 to a pair of researchers demonstrating successful exploits and this year the organizers plan to raise the level of complexity of what constitutes a successful car-hacking exploit.

This year, the organizers were looking to attract exploits targeting Tesla’s Tuner, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Modem components.   

Related: Tesla Returns as Pwn2Own Hacker Takeover Target

Related: Pwn2Own 2019: Researchers Win Tesla After Hacking Its Browser 

Related: $200,000 Awarded for Zoom Zero-Click Zoom Exploit at Pwn2Own

Related: Over $1.1 Million Awarded at Pwn2Own 2022 for 25 Zero-Day Vulns

Written By

Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. He is a security community engagement expert who has built programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and GReAT. Ryan is a founding-director of the Security Tinkerers non-profit, an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, and a regular speaker at security conferences around the world.

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