Cybersecurity Team Paid $350K To Hack Tesla Model 3 In Under 2 Minutes

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Thankfully, this successful invasion was not performed on an actual customer car.

The infotainment and gateway subsystems of a Tesla Model 3 were hacked in mere minutes by a team of hackers, but thankfully, this was not a customer vehicle out in the real world. The hackers were actually part of a research cybersecurity firm known as Synacktiv, and they were competing as part of the Pwn2Own 2023 hacking conference that took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, a few days ago.

The team won $350,000 and a new Model 3 for its efforts, but actual owners of the EV and others like it won't be filled with warm and fuzzy feelings considering that the hackers were able to "fully compromise" the vehicle so quickly. For safety reasons, only the Model 3's head unit (not the whole vehicle) was hacked; this head unit controls the infotainment and navigation.

Zero Day Initiative/YouTube
Zero Day Initiative/YouTube

With only ten minutes to work their magic, the members of the team were allowed three attempted Model 3 hacks in this period - you can watch the action in the video above from the 2:50 mark. They earned $250k for being able to take over the infotainment system, something they achieved in under two minutes; the team cheekily replaced the Tesla logo with the Skynacktiv logo to demonstrate this. The other $100k was earned when they took over the car using an Ethernet network. Once they had access, the team could theoretically open the doors and trunk of the car while it was in motion, and they had control of various safety systems, too.

Events like Pwn2Own 2023 raise awareness around vulnerabilities in the information security industry, and with cars becoming more connected by the day with features that rely on software and not exclusively hardware, the potential risks to consumers are certainly worth assessing.

2017-2023 Tesla Model 3 Forward View Tesla

"Of course, we would like to do this on a car itself, but there are just too many variables that would make it potentially dangerous for those around the vehicle, including the building vehicles parked by, so we do not want to take that chance. We prefer a nice controlled environment," said Dustin Childs, the head of threat awareness at the Zero Day Initiative. This initiative pays researchers to identify possible security breaches, and even though Zero Day Initiative says that Teslas have "multiple layers of security," it's clear that these can be breached.

Vehicle hacks have come under the spotlight increasingly in recent years, and they often involve high-tech EVs. A teenage hacker wanted to prove the point when he took control of 25 different Teslas last year, and the Ford F-150 Lightning's Phone-As-A-Key system was also found to be vulnerable to hacking.

According to SecurityWeek, Tesla's security response team attended the Vancouver hacking event to confirm the results. The EV giant will soon be releasing a fix via the vehicle's self-updating system, which should tighten security and make the cars less vulnerable to potential attacks.

2017-2023 Tesla Model 3 Dashboard Tesla

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2017-2023 Tesla Model 3 Dashboard
2017-2023 Tesla Model 3 Forward View

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