Bad news, Tesla owners: the Chinese have successfully hacked a Model S … sort of

Over the last few weeks, the sinister sounding nerd convention SyScan has held a competition to hack into a Tesla Model S. Now the results are in, and while it is possible to remotely control the sunroof, no one will be remotely crashing a Model S anytime soon.

The competition was held to demonstrate the potential vulnerabilities of highly digital and increasingly networked cars, with the winner eligible to receive a $10,000 prize. Qihoo 360 Technology Co. managed to win about $1,700 of that prize for hacking the Model S’s horn, car locks, headlights and skylight from a remote location.

These are hardly earth shaking achievements, but they do have serious safety implications in particular the car locks. Most Model S drivers are fortunate enough not live in areas where carjacking is a serious concern, but residents of places like South Africa where the crime is endemic will hardly find this a comforting accomplishment.

Bloomberg has reported that Tesla was not involved in the conference, and in fact not very pleased about it. However to its credit Tesla, has asked hackers to flag any vulnerabilities they discover and refer them to the company’s security experts.

Despite the relatively modest achievements of the hackers, the broader concern is a very real one. As we have previously reported, researchers for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have already been able to control the brakes, acceleration and steering of some cars remotely.

That is precisely why companies like Tesla have been hiring security experts away from Apple and other tech companies. And if car companies are willing to spend money on it as opposed to ignoring it, then they must expect this to be a real problem in future.

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