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Tesla Returns as Pwn2Own Hacker Takeover Target

Electric car maker Tesla is using the annual Pwn2Own hacker contest to incentivize security researchers to showcase complex exploit chains that can lead to complete vehicle compromise.

Electric car maker Tesla is using the annual Pwn2Own hacker contest to incentivize security researchers to showcase complex exploit chains that can lead to complete vehicle compromise.

Tesla, in tandem with Pwn2Own organizations Zero Day Initiative, is offering a $600,000 cash prize to any hacker capable of writing exploits that pivot through multiple systems in the car to gain arbitrary code execution.

“Success here gets a big payout and, of course, a brand-new Tesla,” contest organizers announced Thursday.

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.

Hackers can register an entry against either a Tesla Model 3 (Intel or Ryzen-based) or the Tesla Model S (Ryzen-based).

This year, the organizers are looking for exploits targeting Tesla’s Tuner, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Modem components.  Hackers must demonstrate a successful intermediate pivot to the vehicle’s infotainment system and execute code against VCSEC, Gateway or Autopilot.

In addition to the vehicle itself and $500,000, contestants can go for the additional options to raise the payout to $600,000. “This represents the single largest target in Pwn2Own history,” conference organizers said in a note posted Thursday.

Organizers believe a complete vehicle takeover exploit is a tough undertaking. “It’s difficult to express the complexity of completing such a demonstration, but we’re certainly hopeful that someone can show off their exploit skills and drive off a winner.”

Pwn2Own is also offering cash prizes ranging from $250,000 to $400,000 to entice attackers to showcase exploits pivoting through some of the vehicle’s sub-systems. “This level requires the contestant to get arbitrary code execution on two different sub-systems in the vehicle, which is certainly a difficult challenge.”

Pwn2Own also announced the addition of a Steam VM Escape category with both a Tesla Model 3 and a Tesla Model S available as targets.

The annual hacker contest will also offer prizes for exploits for VMWare virtual machine escapes, attacks against Microsoft DNS Server and ISC BIND, and exploits for enterprise collaboration tools Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

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

Related: ICS Exploits Earn Hackers $400,000 at Pwn2Own Miami 2022

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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