Researchers have discovered a method to access Tesla’s advanced features without the need for payment.

Researchers have discovered a method to access Tesla's advanced features without the need for payment.

Hotwiring Tesla: Researchers Discover Hack to Unlock Features for Free


Tesla owners have long enjoyed the ability to unlock a multitude of features and upgrades in their vehicles through in-car purchases. But what if there was a way to access these enhancements without having to pay? A team of doctoral researchers at Technical University Berlin claims to have found a method to circumvent Tesla’s payment systems and obtain new features for free, effectively “hotwiring” the cars.

By exploiting vulnerabilities in Tesla’s software updates, these researchers discovered that they could tap into the improved functionalities and offerings that Tesla offers as subscriptions, without incurring any costs. This breakthrough discovery raises important questions about the fairness of vehicle subscriptions and whether certain features that could come standard on vehicles should require a monthly or annual charge.

Tesla’s in-car purchases allow owners to access features like the “Acceleration Boost,” Premium Connectivity subscription, Full Self-Driving package, and even rear heated seats for a fee. This ability to continually enhance their vehicles with the latest tech is a significant advantage for Tesla owners, as it keeps their cars up-to-date even as they physically age. However, the concept of paying for monthly or annual subscriptions for vehicle features has sparked debates and divided opinions.

The researchers accomplished their feat by “attacking” Tesla’s embedded car computer, a process commonly known as “jailbreaking.” This allowed them to run arbitrary software on the infotainment system, activate or disable features, and bypass payment requirements. While Tesla is known for its advanced security measures, this vulnerability is reminiscent of how consumers used to “jailbreak” iPhones in the past. As vehicles become increasingly electronic, cybersecurity is becoming a growing concern for the automotive industry.

The researchers were able to exploit a voltage-glitching vulnerability in Tesla’s electronic control unit, bypassing the MCU-Z processor responsible for enabling purchased features to go live on the vehicle via over-the-air updates. The hack, which is nearly irreversible, provides control over the operating system and cannot be reversed through rebooting or updating. The only solution is to upgrade the central processing unit.

Christian Werling, one of the TU Berlin researchers involved in the project, explained, “Currently, our attack can be applied by people with some electronic engineering background, a soldering iron, and the ability to purchase additional hardware for about $100.” The simplicity and relatively low cost required for this hack raise concerns about the widespread potential for exploitation.

One of the most significant implications of this hack is that the researchers were able to break geolocation restrictions, allowing them to enable Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta in places where it is not yet available. This feat not only demonstrates the extent of the hack’s capabilities but also highlights the potential for unauthorized use of advanced features in unauthorized locations.

Moreover, the researchers were able to transfer a car’s identity to another car computer without Tesla’s assistance, essentially using the private key owned by Tesla for alternative purposes. This finding raises serious concerns about the security of Tesla’s authentication systems and the potential for identity theft or fraudulent activity.

While this hack currently requires a certain level of technical expertise and additional hardware, the fact that it can be achieved for a relatively modest cost suggests that it may not be long before less scrupulous individuals find ways to exploit this vulnerability on a larger scale. Tesla, like other automakers, will need to address these security concerns as vehicles become increasingly connected and reliant on embedded systems.

This discovery serves as a wake-up call for the automotive industry to prioritize cybersecurity and take steps to prevent similar vulnerabilities in the future. It is crucial for both automakers and researchers to work together to identify and address potential weaknesses, ensuring the safety and integrity of connected vehicles.

While the ability to unlock features for free may initially seem exciting to some, it raises important ethical questions about intellectual property rights and fair compensation for automakers. The continued development of innovative technologies and the advancement of the automotive industry heavily rely on revenue generated from features and upgrades. Unauthorized access not only jeopardizes this ecosystem but also undermines the long-term viability of such advancements.

Tesla, in particular, needs to carefully review its security measures and address the identified vulnerabilities. By proactively addressing these issues and implementing robust security protocols, Tesla can maintain its reputation as a leader in innovation and ensure that its customers continue to enjoy the benefits of its advanced features without compromising their privacy or vehicle integrity.

In conclusion, the discovery of this hack by the researchers at Technical University Berlin sheds light on the potential vulnerabilities within connected vehicles like Tesla. While it may seem like a harmless exploit that grants access to premium features for free, the wider implications must be considered. It serves as a reminder that as we embrace the benefits of advanced technology, ensuring the security and integrity of our systems must remain a top priority.