Hackers Remotely Access and Control Tesla Model S

Author: Jason W. Konvicka, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Hackers Remotely Access and Control Tesla Model SImagine yourself driving down Interstate 95 when all of a sudden the engine on your car dies, not because of a mechanical failure, but because a person behind a computer told the car to stop. While this may seem like a scene out of an action movie, this is a real problem that can affect cars on the road today. How does this happen, and what can we do to stop it from occurring?

What is Hacking?

Hacking. We have all heard of it. Noteworthy hacks making the news include hacks of celebrity iPhones, social media accounts, retailers such as Target[1] and even internet portal Yahoo[2]. The hackers take credit and debit card information, which allows them to create duplicate cards.[3] Hackers also steal personally identifiable information in order to commit fraud through identity theft. Hacking is a worldwide problem with potentially serious consequences.

How a Car Can Be Hacked

Hackers are computer programmers who use their knowledge to find vulnerabilities in computer software programs and exploit them. Most recently, a group of Chinese hackers successfully took control of a Tesla Model S. The hackers gained access to the vehicle even though they were 12 miles away and the vehicle was not in Autopilot mode.[4] The hackers gained entry to the vehicle by creating a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot which the Tesla Model S unwittingly connected to while Web browsing. The internet connection allowed access to the Tesla’s internal computer network. The hackers were then able to remotely control the vehicle; they could open and close the car's doors, move the seats forward and back, open the sun roof and trunk, move the side mirrors, and turn the windshield wipers on or off. They could also interfere with the car's braking system.

The Chinese hackers shared their findings with Tesla, which deployed a security patch. However, the Tesla incident is just the latest in a series of vehicle hacks. Previously, a pair of benign hackers remotely took control of a Jeep driven by Wired writer Andy Greenberg as he was driving at a speed of approximately 70 mph.[5]  This was not a surprise to Greenberg, who voluntarily agreed to be the “crash-test” dummy for the pair.[6] These hackers were able to exploit the software in the Jeep’s entertainment system to allow them to remotely control steering, brakes, transmission, and dashboard functions.[7]

In 2013, those same hackers accomplished a similar feat, but they were sitting in the back seat of the car with their computer hooked up manually to the system.[8] Now, they are able to control vehicle operations from the comfort of the couch in their own living room.[9]

Points of entry for hackers include: GPS receivers, cars that parallel park themselves, online diagnostic services, along with other car computer capabilities.[10] Fiat Chrysler has recalled 1.4 million vehicles that can be hacked via the Internet.[11] This recall comes after Fiat Chrysler initially offered a software patch.

What is Being Done?

U. S. Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are seeking to introduce legislation to address the issue.[12] Their bill has three major points:

  1. It will require the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration and the Federal Traffic Commission to set security standards for cars with a specific focus on software systems,
  2. It will require these same agencies to set privacy standards for this software, and
  3. It will require manufacturers to display window stickers on new cars that rank security and privacy protections.[13]

This hacking incident demonstrates some of the vulnerabilities and dangers associated with self-driving and driver-assisted vehicles. Fortunately, cars are more difficult to hack than computers, and both legislators and automakers are attempting to address the issue.[14] In the meantime, drivers should check to see whether their car’s computer system is being recalled, and take the recommended steps if it is.

About The Author: Jason Konvicka is a partner and trial attorney with Allen & Allen in Richmond, Virginia. During his 20+ year career, he has achieved numerous record-setting jury verdicts and substantial settlements on behalf of his clients. His practice focuses on medical malpractice, bus accidents and product liability personal injury cases. Outside of the courtroom, Jason is involved with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and currently serves on its Board of Governors as Vice President.


[1] See Gregory Wallace, Target Credit Card Hack: What you Need to Know, CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/22/news/companies/target-credit-card-hack/index.html

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/yahoo-confirms-500-million-accounts-hacked-501725

[3] See Gregory Wallace, Target Credit Card Hack: What you Need to Know, CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/22/news/companies/target-credit-card-hack/index.html

[4] http://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/chinese-hackers-take-control-of-a-tesla-from-12-miles-away-most-cars-are-probabl.html

[5] See Andy Greenberg, Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me In It, Wired, http://www.wired.com/2015/07/hackers-remotely-kill-jeep-highway/

[6] See id.

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] See Fred Kaplan, Losing Control of the Vehicle, Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/war_stories/2015/08/auto_companies_and_drivers_should_be_very_worried_about_car_hacking.html

[11] See David Goldman, Chrysler Recalls 1.4 Million Hackable Cars, CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/24/technology/chrysler-hack-recall/index.html

[12] See Andy Greenberg, Senate Bill Seeks Standards for Cars Defenses from Hackers, Wired, http://www.wired.com/2015/07/senate-bill-seeks-standards-cars-defenses-hackers/

[13] See id.

[14] See Fred Kaplan, Losing Control of the Vehicle, Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/war_stories/2015/08/auto_companies_and_drivers_should_be_very_worried_about_car_hacking.html

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