Those who register for the SyScan computer security conference next week are being offered a unique opportunity. Whoever most successfully hacks into the onboard computer of a Tesla Model S wins $10,000.
Tesla Motors is known for having strong security measures. Drivers can easily report vulnerabilities or bugs directly to the company through its vulnerability disclosure program. Tesla Motors is not supporting the competition, but will be addressing any vulnerabilities that come to light as a result of the competition.
The SyScan challenge may be the first ever open competition to hack into a car's computer systems. The Symposium on Security for Asia Network, or SyScan, will have a Tesla Model S on site, along with a number of computers available to attempt the hack. Successful hacks could control some of the Tesla's sytems remotely, or force the car's in-dash web browser to go to a certain website and even download a virus.
Although it may be the first competition, this is not the first time hackers have attempted to penetrate the onboard computer of a car. In fact, Charlie Miller and Chris Valase received a large grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to pursue research in that area.
A team of researchers from universities in Washington and California have already shown that hackers can gain access to a car's computer systems in a number of ways, including piggybacking on cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. Miller and Valase have taken a crack at the next step in the process, finding ways to affect the car once inside.
Using a Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius, the hackers demonstrated the ability to disable the car's brakes as well as slam them down, either of which could cause a deadly highway accident. Even more concerning is the fact that they can briefly jerk the car's steering wheel in either direction, sending it veering off the road.
Most cars are alarmingly vulnerable to hacking attempts. Since there have been no real-world accidents caused by hackers, manufacturers have little incentive to adequately secure their systems. Professor Stefan Savage likens the vulnerabilities found in current onboard computer systems to those in early 1990s computer, which were ill-prepared to deal with the dangers posed by Internet access.
The SyScan conference will take place on July 16-17 in Beijing, China. The winner of the Tesla Model S hacking competition will be announced at the end of the conference on the evening of July 17.