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Are Teslas Secure? How Hackers Can Attack Connected Cars

It seems like everything is connected to the internet these days, from kettles to doorbells. Even cars are increasingly manufactured with some degree of internet connectivity. But no cars are quite as internet-connected as Teslas.

In general, Teslas are very secure vehicles. However, whenever any kind of device is connected to the internet, even a car, it will introduce some security vulnerabilities. To show you the different ways in which security issues can affect connected cars, we’ll share some examples of how people have tried and sometimes succeeded at hacking Teslas.

Vulnerabilities in Tesla Key Fobs

tesla-model-s

Of all the ways that criminals use technology to hack or steal cars


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, one security aspect you might not consider is a key fob. Teslas have a keyless entry system. This uses a small device attached to a key ring which you carry on your person. When you approach your Tesla, it detects the key fob and unlocks the doors for you.

Cloning Attacks on Tesla Key Fobs

There have been security issues with Tesla key fobs. In 2018, researchers from the Belgium university KU Leuven announced they were able to copy a Tesla key fob.

They could wirelessly read signals from a nearby key fob, then clone a copy of it. That meant it was possible for hackers to stand near to Tesla owners and copy their keys without them knowing, then steal the car. Tesla swiftly fixed the issue with a new type of key fob which removed the vulnerability.

However, one year later in 2019, the same researchers discovered another security flaw in the new fobs. This time, the hacker had to be closer to the fob than previously and the attack took a little longer. But it could still be performed wirelessly without the target knowing.

Although Tesla had introduced more encryption in the new fobs, this was not enough to prevent the hack. The good news is that Tesla was able to patch this issue with a software update soon after news of the new hack broke.

Repeater Attacks on Tesla Key Fobs

It’s worth noting that as far as we’re aware, no one has ever used the cloning vulnerability to actually steal a Tesla. However, hackers can also perform other attacks on key fobs, such as a repeater attack.

Here, a hacker picks up the presence of a key fob from inside a Tesla owner’s house when their car is parked outside and amplifies it. This is the method that thieves likely used in a much-circulated video (above) purporting to show two people stealing a Tesla in the UK.

Hacking Tesla’s Autopilot Feature

One of the most scary ideas people have when they think about the security of internet-connected cars


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is what happens if a hacker takes control of a vehicle. Tesla’s Autopilot feature allows the car to perform some self-driving maneuvers such as cruising or changing lanes on the highway.

But in 2019, a group of Chinese hackers were able to manipulate the Autopilot feature. In a nightmare scenario for drivers, the hackers were able to take control and direct the car into oncoming traffic.

To perform the hack, the team used small, brightly colored stickers attached to the road surface. This created a “false lane” which the Tesla’s systems read as a real driving lane and followed. This all took place on a test track, but theoretically the same system could be used in the real world to direct a car into the oncoming traffic lane.

The trick here is that this hack requires changes to the outside environment around the car. It doesn’t actually target the car itself. Plus, drivers should still be attentive when using Autopilot and be ready to take control of the vehicle from the automated systems.

That means it’s not very likely to be a problem in most scenarios. Tesla thought so too, putting out a statement saying that the vulnerability was “not a realistic concern.”

Hacking a Tesla’s Entertainment System

Are Teslas Secure? How Hackers Can Attack Connected Cars tesla touchscreen

A less serious hack on Teslas was demonstrated by Team Fluoroacetate at the security event Pwn2Own in 2019. The team were able to use a bug in the car’s web browser to access the car’s firmware and run their own code. They were then able to show a message on the Tesla entertainment system.

This hack isn’t going to help anyone steal your car or cause a crash. However, it does show how any seemingly small part of a car’s software can be a security risk, even the web browser. Tesla says it is working on a software fix for this security issue.

Protecting Your Data When You Sell Your Tesla

Finally, there’s a security issue with Teslas which is not due to a vulnerability as such.

Instead, it’s due to the collection of data that you might not even think about. If you own a Tesla and later decide to sell it, you should be aware of the amount of data about you contained within the car. Just like when you sell an old PC, you should be sure to wipe the hard disk drive before passing it on to the buyer.

When you sell a connected car, you need to get rid of private data before handing it over to someone else.

In 2019 two security researchers purchased a wrecked Tesla Model 3. They were able to access the car’s computer and download all sorts of information about the previous owners. In the computer they found phonebooks with contacts’ numbers and email addresses, plus calendar entries. They were also able to see recent locations entered into the car’s navigation system. There was even video footage recorded by the vehicle’s cameras.

There is a way to delete personal information from a Tesla by performing a factory reset. This should be a reminder to Tesla owners that if their car is ever wrecked or sold, they should perform a factory reset before getting rid of the car. This will prevent anyone from accessing their data.

Connected Cars Come With Security Risks

Overall, cars today are safer than ever before. Teslas have security features which make crashes less likely and protect the people inside if they do occur. But it’s worth thinking about the ways that new technologies can create security risks.

To learn more about the risks of connected cars, see our article on terrifying scenarios that self-driving cars make possible


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Which Component of Modern Cars Owes Its Name To Horses?

Black and white drawing of a carriage's dashboard
Pearson Scott Foresman/Wikimedia

Answer: The Dashboard

In modern automobiles, the dashboard is a flat surface inside the car, beneath the windshield, that seems to exist solely for the purpose of creating space so that your face isn’t pressed against the glass of the windshield (and to give bohemian passengers a place to throw up their boots).

Historically, however, the dashboard wasn’t a flat surface for tossing newspapers and parking tickets on; it was a vertical barrier at the front of a carriage between the driver and the horses. Whatever the horses’ hoofs dashed up from the road—mud, sticks, or manure—was deflected away from the driver by the dashboard.

The dashboard isn’t the only component leftover from the days of carriages. Once upon a time, the boot (trunk) wasn’t a distinct storage compartment, but a built-in compartment originally used as a seat for the coachman and later for storage.





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Good for Dumb Cars but Needs a Redesign – Review Geek

Rating:
7/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $25/$50

An Echo Auto sitting on a car dash, with a blue light showing.
Josh Hendrickson

Voice controls keep you safer when driving. But many vehicles either have hilariously awful voice controls or nothing at all. Amazon wants to solve that with the new Echo Auto. Does it achieve that goal? Mostly. But it needs work.

Here’s What We Like

  • Remarkable voice accuracy
  • Easy to set up
  • Controls your smarthome

And What We Don’t

  • Vent mount won’t fit all cars
  • You might want to hide it
  • It would be better as a car charger

Needing a Solution for Dumb Cars

I drive a 2010 Toyota Prius, and its voice command system is the worst. To make a phone call by voice, I have to press a button, listen to a series of command options, respond, and repeat no less than three times. Half the time it fails, and I have to start over. It takes so long I don’t bother.

To get around that, I bought a Roav Viva nearly two years ago. It promises more natural voice commands through Alexa that work quickly. Sure, I can use my phone’s built-in Google Assistant, but when I tried to do that, my phone’s microphones couldn’t hear me well enough. The Roav Viva works well, but it isn’t seamless. It misses out on some features like Spotify integration and proper followup. Anytime the Viva asks, “Did you say Call John?” it completely fails to listen to my response.

The Echo Auto is supposed to be different. This product, currently sold by invitation only, comes directly from Amazon . So unlike the Roav Viva, it won’t need a bridge app to connect the device to the Alexa app. And mostly it’s better. But in some places, it’s a step back from the Viva.

The Physical Setup Is a Bundle of Bad Choices

An Echo Auto next to a Roav Viva.
The Echo Auto is a boxy affair, while the Roav Viva is a car charger. The latter is arguably more useful and convenient. Josh Hendrickson

My absolute favorite thing about the Roav Viva is that it looks like a car charger. You plug it into your cigarette lighter, and it includes two USB ports for charging your phone and other devices. You forget it’s a physical object in your car.

I wish Amazon had stolen that concept, but it didn’t. Instead, what the company came up with is a rectangular box about the size of a Nintendo Joy-Con. Overall it’s a pretty boring design. The top has two buttons, one for mute and one to prompt the Echo to listen to you. The right side sports a MicroUSB port for power and a headphone jack.

Included is the car charger (with two USB ports), a USB cord, and a 3.5 mm audio cable. To get set up, you connect the Echo Auto to your phone, and then the phone to your car. If you have Bluetooth in your car, use that, otherwise, use an Aux jack. If you have neither, you can’t use the Echo Auto. That mirrors the Roav Viva exactly.

The Echo Auto on a vent mount, blocking the vent adjustment bar.
With the vent mount in, I couldn’t adjust the flow of my A/C, which was inconvenient. I opted not to use the mount. Josh Hendrickson

Once everything is connected, you have to put the device somewhere. Amazon includes a vent clip that magnetically holds the Echo Auto; although it technically fits my car’s vents, it prevents them from moving or aiming in a sensible direction. So the next best option is to set the Echo Auto on the dash and hope it doesn’t slide around.

That leaves me in an awkward position. I have a power cord dangling in the way and a device that might fly away. Whether I use the mount or not, when I leave the car, I feel like I should hide the thing. I don’t feel the need to hide the Roav Viva because who’s going to steal a car charger?

My car includes a handy storage spot underneath the cigarette lighter port, so I tried keeping it there while driving. Unfortunately, it couldn’t hear me, so back to the dash it went. I was surprised by that, as the Roav Viva could hear me from the same location (although it has plenty of false positives).

Is This Thing On?

My frustration didn’t end there. Amazon doesn’t make it clear when your Echo Auto is ready to go. When you turn your car on, you hear a power-on chime, but you never get a connection confirmation.

The Echo Auto uses your phone for internet, so until they pair it won’t work. But you won’t know if it failed to connect until you try to use it. By the time you realize, you’re on the road. Which means either pulling over or trying to troubleshoot the issue while driving. The latter option defeats the point of hands-free driving entirely, not to mention the safety issues involved. I appreciate that the Roav Viva speaks a confirmation phrase when its paired and ready, and I wish the Echo Auto did, too.

A Seamless Experience

An Echo next to a Prius key fob, Nintendo Joy-Con and two lego Minifigs.
The one benefit to the design is the size. It’s fairly small, somewhere between my keyfob and a Joy-Con. Josh Hendrickson

That’s a lot of complaining about the physical makeup and setup of the device, I know. But here’s the good news. Once you get past all that, it works really well. The Echo Auto hears me every time I speak the wake word. And just as importantly, in every case, it responds correctly to my command. I haven’t experienced any false positives either. And in general, using the Echo Auto is quicker than using the Roav Viva.

And for that, you get (nearly) a full Echo in your car. That means Spotify works, smarthome commands work, you can ask for trivia or the weather. And Amazon implemented car-friendly options.

When I say “Call John Mobile,” it just works, and the phone call starts. But even better, I can say, “Get me directions to the closest Taco Bell.” After a quick confirmation, my phone opens Google Maps and starts directing me to Taco Bell. I can even say, “Stop the directions” if I change my mind, and Alexa pauses the navigation on Google Maps. If you prefer, you can use Waze or Apple Maps.

And since it’s an Echo, I can control my smarthome devices. If I can’t remember if I locked the front door, I can ask my Echo Auto. If the door is unlocked, I can tell the Echo Auto to lock it. Am I arriving home late? That’s OK; I can tell the Echo to turn on the porch light, so I can see. And if I have a trunk full of groceries, I can use the Echo Auto to announce to the rest of the house to come help. It’s nice having the car as an extension of my smarthome.

Compared to other Amazon Echo devices, the Echo Auto misses out on one feature: You can’t change the wake word. That’s a shame, but not a dealbreaker.

Should You Get One?

The top of an Amazon Echo showing a mute button, talk button, and Amazon logo.
Like all Echos, you get a mute button and a push-to-talk button. The right side features a headphone jack and MicroUSB port for power. Josh Hendrickson

The Echo Auto is an odd proposition. If you already have a voice nav system you like or are satisfied using your phone as one, then you can skip this entirely. It won’t add anything you don’t already have.

If you have a dumb car without voice nav or with terrible voice nav, it’s a more tantalizing proposition. But it’s still a bit of a mixed bag. Right now, it’s $25 by invitation only; eventually, when sales open up to everyone, it will be $50. That’s more expensive than the Roav Viva, a device that performs a similar function.

And there’s the rub. I like the hardware of the Roav Viva more than I do the Echo Auto. By far. It’s more convenient, it feels safer to have in the car, and it even adds two USB ports for charging.

On the other hand, the Echo Auto performs better than the Roav Viva. I get frequent false positives with the Viva but didn’t with the Echo Auto. The commands work better, and more quickly, and I can control Spotify with Echo Auto.

If it only looked like the Roav Viva, I’d recommend it without hesitation. But it doesn’t. If you don’t mind your Echo Auto sticking out when you leave the car, or you don’t mind hiding it, then the Echo Auto is a good device. If the vent mount fits your car’s vents (you can check here), then it’s even better.

But the inconvenience of the setup is still something you should think about before asking for an invite to purchase. The Echo Auto works as intended, but the improvement I want calls for all new hardware.

Rating: 7/10

Price: $25/$50

Here’s What We Like

  • Remarkable voice accuracy
  • Easy to set up
  • Controls your smarthome

And What We Don’t

  • Vent mount won’t fit all cars
  • You might want to hide it
  • It would be better as a car charger





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How to Check a Used Car’s History Before You Buy It – LifeSavvy

Man and woman looking at cars at a car lot.
Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock

Before you buy a used car, it’s always a good idea to check the vehicle’s history and get the full story. Here’s how to make sure you’re not getting ripped off.

Buying a used car is an excellent option if you need a new set of wheels, but don’t have thousands of dollars to drop on something fresh off the lot. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get duped when you buy a used car. There are tons of horror stories about people buying cars with serious mechanical issues or finding out their new car was stolen from its original owner.

So, how do you protect yourself when buying a used car? You use the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to research its history and make an informed decision about purchasing.

What’s a VIN and Why Is It Important?

When purchasing a used car, you should always find out the vehicle’s VIN. A VIN is a string of 17 letters and numbers that act as a vehicle’s social security number. No two cars have the same VIN, so you can use it to look up a vehicle’s history. When you look up a VIN, you get access to information like registration, recalls, service records, and more.

Drawing showing where to find the VIN on a car.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

You can find a car’s VIN by looking on the driver’s side front door or at the front corner where the windshield meets the dashboard. VINs are also recorded on a car’s insurance card, title, and registration. It’s ideal to see the VIN yourself and snap a photo with your smartphone rather than accepting the VIN from the seller, unseen.

Why Should I Check the VIN When Buying a Car?

You should always check the VIN before you purchase a new or used car. When you do so, you get a basic history of the car, including claims of theft, damage, or accidents. Imagine driving a stolen car off the lot. That’s an extreme example, but not unheard of. If you run a VIN check, you can avoid some of these major problems.

A VIN check also reveals if something happened to the car that might compromise its ability to run safely. You can also get service records for the car and find out if it’s had regular maintenance, like oil changes.

If you’re purchasing a car from a reputable dealership, they give you a VIN report free of charge before you buy the car. Your salesperson should go over the report with you. The report will provide you with lots of info on the car, including how many owners it’s had, any accidents it’s been involved in, any insurance claims that have been filed on it and whether it’s facing an open recall.

What Should You Look for in a Car’s VIN Report?

Gauges on a car's dashboard.
Song Pin/Shutterstock

If the dealership has given you a car’s history report, what should you look for? There’s usually a lot of information in there, but here are the most important things you should consider.

Is It Legal?

If you’re purchasing from a reputable dealership, you won’t have to worry about whether the car is legally available for sale. If, on the other hand, you’re buying from a private owner or a potentially shady dealership, make sure the car has a free and clear title. The VIN report informs you if a car has ever been reported stolen.

The Number of Previous Owners

The VIN report shows how many previous owners a car has had. If it’s had two or more, this might be an indication that something’s wrong with it—mechanically or otherwise. If you notice this, you might want to get a second opinion on whether the car’s fit for purchase.

Has It Been in Any Accidents?

An accident can affect a vehicle in many ways. Cars that have been in accidents might have extensive damage, even if it isn’t visible to the naked eye. If a car’s been in an accident, make sure it’s safe to drive, and all issues have been repaired.

Similarly, cars that have been in accidents are worth less than cars that haven’t. That means an accident can affect both the purchase price and resell value. You might be able to negotiate a lower price to buy a car that’s been in an accident. However, you’ll also have to sell it for less money.

Has It Been Taken Care of?

Many VIN reports show a car’s maintenance records. You can see when and how often it received routine care, like oil changes or tire rotations. If you’re buying a used car, it’s important it was well taken care of by its previous owners. Otherwise, you might face hefty repair fees more quickly than you anticipated.

Are There Any Recalls or Warranties?

A VIN report also indicates any open recalls on a vehicle model. Most of the time, a dealership takes care of recall repairs for free, so you won’t have to worry about a recall costing you money. However, it’s important you know about open recalls, so you’re aware of any danger when operating the vehicle.

The VIN report also includes whether the car is still under warranty. A warranty can save you money on any costly repairs that come up.

Where to Check the VIN History

There are several ways you can check a used car’s VIN history. Here are some of the best places to check out a car’s history.

CarFax

CarFax is a leader in providing detailed VIN reports to would-be purchasers. Many reputable car dealerships provide CarFax reports for used-car purchases. You can also purchase a CarFax report yourself on their website if you’re buying directly from an owner or a dealership that doesn’t offer this service. One CarFax report costs $39.99.

National Insurance Crime Bureau

The National Insurance Crime Bureau provides a database of theft or loss records for cars. You can input a car’s VIN to see if it’s been marked as stolen or severely damaged at any point in its history.

VehicleHistory.com

VehicleHisory’s comprehensive VIN report gives extensive details about a car’s inspection and performance records, safety ratings, warranty, and more. You can also learn when and where the vehicle has been listed for sale.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a VIN lookup that tells you if a car is under any recall orders.

Other Ways to Get Info on a Car

In addition to online services, you can get in-person support to learn more about a car’s history and fitness for purchase.

Ask the Dealership

If your dealership doesn’t automatically provide you with a CarFax report, you can always ask for one. If they want you to buy from them, they’ll pay the nominal fee to give you the information you need. If they refuse, they don’t really want or deserve your business.

Speak to the Owner

If you’re purchasing a car directly from its owner, you should absolutely ask him about its history. Here are some good questions to ask about a used car:

  • How long have you had it?
  • Has it been in any accidents?
  • Does it have any cosmetic or mechanical issues that need to be fixed?
  • Have pets been in the car?
  • How was this car previously used?

Keep in mind the owner might not tell you the truth. You should always try to confirm what you’re told with a CarFax report or an examination by a mechanic.

Have It Examined by a Mechanic

If you have a mechanic you trust, you can ask him to examine the car you’re thinking of buying. A mechanic knows what to look for to determine a car’s safety and effectiveness. See if you can take the car to the mechanic’s shop, or ask your mechanic to come with you.


Buying a used car can be stressful and scary. What if you make the wrong choice and purchase a lemon? The best way to prevent this is to do as much research as possible ahead of time. Arm yourself with knowledge, and it’ll save you from making a costly mistake.





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