Tesla keyfob vulnerable to spoofing attacks

Electric car maker moves to push out remote fix for flaw

Tesla electric cars

Security researchers have identified a flaw which would allow attackers to steal a Tesla simply by walking past the owner and cloning their key.

According to research carried out by Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) group part of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Belgian university KU Leuven, hackers would have to first identify the car's radio ID, then relay that broadcast to a victim's key fob and listen for the response, typically from within three feet of it. If they can carry out that back-and-forth twice, the attacker can work back to the secret key powering the fob's responses, letting them unlock the car and start the engine.

"We implemented a proof of concept attack that allows [attackers] to clone a key fob in a few seconds," said the researchers. "The attacker device consists of a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, Proxmark3, Yard Stick One and a USB battery pack." 

"The Raspberry Pi connects to a smartphone's WiFi hotspot allowing it to download files from a remote 6TB hard drive containing the TMTO tables."

The problem was reported to Tesla in June, and soon after a fix was developed and pushed out to Tesla cars remotely.

In a statement, Tesla said that based on the research presented by this group, "we worked with our supplier to make our key fobs more secure by introducing more robust cryptography for Model S in June 2018".

"A corresponding software update for all Model S vehicles allows customers with cars built prior to June to switch to the new key fobs if they wish. In addition, we had already been working on several other over-the-air updates to help protect our customers."

Craig Smith, research director of Transportation Security at Rapid7, told IT Pro that what's most interesting about this potential attack scenario is not the vulnerability itself, but more that Tesla was able to fix it remotely.

"Key fob attacks have happened in the past, but usually key fobs are not updatable, meaning they can never be fixed. This is the first time I've seen a key fob vulnerability being fixed remotely without a recall and is a sign that the automotive industry is transitioning into a much better position from a cybersecurity standpoint," he said.

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