Tesla Motors accounts are protected only by simple passwords, making it easy for hackers to potentially track and unlock cars, according to a security researcher.
Tesla Model S owners need to create an account on teslamotors.com when they order their cars and the same account allows them to use an iOS app to remotely unlock the car's doors, locate it, close and open its roof, flash its lights or honk its horn.
Despite providing access to important car features, these accounts are only protected by a password with low-complexity requirements -- six characters long and at least one number and one letter -- a security researcher named Nitesh Dhanjani said Friday in a blog post.
The Tesla Motors site also doesn't seem to have an account lockout policy based on incorrect log-in attempts, which makes accounts registered on the site susceptible to brute-force password guessing attempts, Dhanjani said.
However, the brute-force attacks are just one potential threat. Tesla accounts could also be targeted through phishing and malware or could be compromised as a result of third-party password leaks if car owners reuse their passwords on multiple sites, the researcher said. In addition, if the email associated with a Tesla account is compromised, an attacker could simply reset the account's password because there are no other checks involved, like answering secret questions, he said.
The researcher also believes that in its current implementation, the Tesla REST API (application programming interface) used by the official iOS app to interact with the online service, can also pose a security risk.
The API can be used by third-party apps that require users to log in with their Tesla credentials, the researcher said. For example, one app called Tesla for Glass, which lets users monitor and control their cars through Google Glass, stores the user's credentials, he said.
This behavior is dangerous because if an intruder compromises the app's infrastructure, he could collect Tesla account credentials and abuse the remote car control functionality they enable, the researcher said.
Dhanjani believes Tesla Motors should should do more to protect accounts beyond using a static password and advises Tesla car owners to take precautions against potential security risks until that happens.
"Given the serious nature of this topic, we know we can't attempt to secure our vehicles the way we have attempted to secure our workstations at home in the past by relying on static passwords and trusted networks," Dhanjani said. "The implications to physical security and privacy in this context have raised stakes to the next level."
Tesla Motors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Automotive manufacturers though innovative in engineering can often oversee the security aspects just because there was no need to digitally safeguard cars in the past," said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at security firm Bitdefender. "While it may be true that the online account does not allow a potential attacker to control the car's critical systems, it could allow somebody to physically locate the car and unlock it."
Botezatu believes that Tesla accounts should require a second authentication factor when users attempt to authenticate from new devices or when their active sessions expire.
An increasing number of manufacturers allow users to remotely control their devices through cloud-based services. Devices with such functionality range from IP-based cameras to network-attached storage devices and home automation sensors.
It's unlikely that manufacturers will take a secure approach to designing so-called Internet-of-things devices anytime soon, Botezatu said, pointing out that at the moment most engineering efforts focus on functionality and battery performance.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.