Watch Hackers Steal a Tesla
The thieves appear to hack the key fob’s signal to open the doors and start the car.
An Essex, England man watched thieves drive his Tesla Model S out of his own driveway by intercepting the signal from his key fob inside the house and using it to unlock and start the car.
Antony Kennedy, who lives in Essex, England, bought the car second-hand for £45,000 ($58,000), according to Business Insider. He’s only had it for nine months, and kept it parked in his driveway. Two security cameras were recording the driveway, but they didn’t keep thieves from carjacking his Tesla. This could happen with any car that has a door entry fob and keyless engine starter, not just a Tesla.
Kennedy told me in a Twitter message that when he saw his car was stolen, he called Tesla first, before the authorities, to see if the company could help find it. “Tesla can't do anything,” he said. “The car is offline. I think it had the SIM removed (good reason to not have a physical SIM and use a eSIM instead) or blocked.”
He called the police two hours after it happened, at 4 AM on Sunday, and gave them the security camera footage, as well as information he found on Facebook about another person nearby who’d been targeted by what seemed like the same duo. “No one has even called me back,” he said. “THAT's the frustrating part.”
For other Tesla owners who might be targeted by thieves, Kennedy suggests keeping the key fob in a Faraday pouch to block signals, making sure the PIN to Drive feature (which requires a passcode to start the car) is enabled, and disabling the passive entry feature (which opens the doors automatically as you approach the car with the fob).
“But all of these things are like punishment for the owner. Passive entry is like magic. It's one of the coolest things about the car—you walk up to it and the handles magically appear,” he said. “I think Tesla could still do more. Make it the thief's problem, not the consumer's. They could use an eSIM to make it hard to disable tracking. They could require a PIN to turn off remote access. They could use facial recognition or fingerprint scanning. My phone can do that. Why not an expensive car made by a tech giant?”
A Tesla spokesperson told Business Insider: "We have issued several over-the-air updates to help protect our customers from thefts—last year we introduced an update that allows all customers to turn off passive entry entirely, and this year we introduced PIN to Drive, which allows customers to set a unique PIN that needs to be entered before their vehicle is driven."
A similar key fob hacking method was previously demonstrated by a team from KU Leuven University in Belgium. In their demonstration, the hack seems a smooth as any spy movie: To open the doors and start the car, hackers access the key fob’s “passive entry” signal, taking advantage of the company’s relatively weak lock encryption to intercept the signal and get into the car. In reality, as we see in the video, the hackers have to spend several anxious moments wandering around the car searching for the signal.
“I have to accept it's kind of my fault,” Kennedy told me. “I chose convenience over security, and regret that now. But in the end, it needs to be the thief that has the problems. Not the victims.”