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Hacking the Tesla Model S Uncovers Ubuntu Roots, May Void Warranty

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Hackers get into Tesla Model S, finds Open-Source Operating System
Hackers get into Tesla Model S, finds Open-Source Operating System

Now, you’re not supposed to hack the Tesla Model S, because even the MVPA says you can’t, but give a computer geek an Ethernet port and, well, you know the rest.

I’m certain that this wasn’t what Tesla motors had in mind when they wrote the software for the Tesla Model S, giving hackers access, but Tesla Motors Service Centers need to access the system somehow, when they have to service the vehicle. Hence, the easily-exposed Ethernet port, which Tesla Motors would use with their own proprietary software to access the vehicle controller and other systems. On the other hand, the Tesla Motors MVPA (Motor Vehicle Purchase Agreement) says, “You may not, or may not attempt to, reverse engineer, disassemble, decompile, tamper with or engage in any similar activity in respect of a Tesla Vehicle, nor may you permit any third party to do so, save only to the extent permitted by applicable law.”

Now, there may be a slight difference between hacking a $500 iPhone and a $100,000 Tesla Model S, but that hasn’t kept the geeks from trying, and succeeding, to a certain extent. A new thread on the Tesla Motors Club forum sheds light on some of their discoveries, including finding that the 17-inch touchscreen display runs on a version of the open-source operating system Ubuntu. One hacker was able to get Firefox to display, albeit sideways, since he wasn’t able to tweak the rotation. Of course, these tweaks only manage to get as far as the touchscreen, but it raises an important question, “Can hackers get further into the system and modify the vehicle controller?”

My bet is that the Tesla Model S’ vehicle control system is safe from prying eyes, and that the open-source software access is limited to just the screen, and limited access at that. Still, Tesla Motors is none too happy about the geeks tampering with the system. The vehicle itself had already notified its makers that it was being toyed with, to which Tesla Motors responded with a firm “stop it or I’ll void your warranty.” Better off waiting for Tesla Motors to release the official software development kit for third-party apps developers, which they were going to do, anyway.

Image © FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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