Hackers crack Tesla’s software to get free features

Hackers claim to have figured out how to unlock self-driving updates and other premium features on Tesla vehicles without paying for them.

The group of researchers from TU Berlin who discovered the “jailbreak” claim that it is unpatchable, meaning the electric car maker will not be able to prevent people from exploiting the hack without replacing the actual hardware of the vehicles.

“Tesla has been known for their advanced and well-integrated car computers, from serving mundane entertainment purposes to fully autonomous driving capabilities,” the researchers wrote in a briefing that detailed their discovery.

“More recently, Tesla has started using this well-established platform to enable in-car purchases, not only for additional connectivity features but even for analogue features like faster acceleration of rear heated seats.

“As a result, hacking the embedded car computer could allow users to unlock these features without paying.”

The cyber attack targets Tesla’s Media Control Unit (MCU) infotainment system found on all recent models, using a technique known as voltage glitching to take advantage of a known flaw with the AMD processor in the MCU.

The attack exposes personal information, such as contacts and appointments, however it requires physical access to the car in order to work.

Premium features that Tesla blocks behind a paywall include Acceleration Boost, costing $2,000, and Full Self-Driving, which costs $15,000. Not all software upgrades were tested by the researchers, and it is not clear if the hack would unblock all of them.

The exploit will be presented at the Black Hat cyber security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, 9 August, in a presentation titled ‘Jailbreaking an electric vehicle in 2023 or what it means to hotwire Tesla’s x86-based seat heater’.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.