Researchers show how to steal a Tesla Model X in a few minutes

Pierluigi Paganini November 23, 2020

Boffins have demonstrated how to steal a Tesla Model X in a few minutes by exploiting vulnerabilities in the car’s keyless entry system.

A team of researchers from the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) group at the KU Leuven University in Belgium has demonstrated how to steal a Tesla Model X in minutes by exploiting vulnerabilities in the car’s keyless entry system.

The COSIC researchers reported the vulnerabilities to Tesla in August and the carmaker addressed them with an over-the-air update (version 2020.48) that is currently being rolled out to vehicles.

The key fob used in Tesla Model X communicates with the vehicle with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The experts discovered that the updating mechanism for the software running on the Bluetooth chip of the key fob is not secure.

The experts modified a Model X electronic control unit (ECU) and used it to force the victim’s key fob to advertise itself as a connectable Bluetooth device. Then, they exploited the insecure update mechanism to deliver a tainted firmware to the fob. The malicious code was designed to extract a piece of radio code that would allow the researchers to unlock the Tesla.

“Lennert Wouters, a security researcher at Belgian university KU Leuven, today revealed a collection of security vulnerabilities he found in both Tesla Model X cars and their keyless entry fobs.” Lennert Wouters explained to Wired. “He discovered that those combined vulnerabilities could be exploited by any car thief who manages to read a car’s vehicle identification number—usually visible on a car’s dashboard through the windshield—and also come within roughly 15 feet of the victim’s key fob.”

Upon unlocking the vehicle, the researchers exploited a second vulnerability to pair their own key fob with the victim’s vehicle after a minute’s work and drive the car away.

“Basically a combination of two vulnerabilities allows a hacker to steal a Model X in a few minutes time,” added Wouters, who plans to present his findings at the Real World Crypto conference in January. “When you combine them, you get a much more powerful attack.”

Using this process the researchers achieved permanent access to the Tesla Model X.

The researchers used cheap components for their hack, just $300 worth of equipment that includes the ECU, a Raspberry Pi, a secondhand Model X BCM, a key fob, a power converter, and a battery.

Tesla Model X

The researchers also published the following video PoC for the attack:

Back in 2018 time, the COSIC research team demonstrated a similar attack against the key fob of a Tesla Model S.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Tesla Model X)

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