Security experts will be competing to hack a car for a $10,000 prize next week. It’s no ordinary car, though. It’s a Tesla Model S, the famous electric supercar brought to life by Elon Musk and his whizz-kid mechanics. And this might just be the first ever open competition to hack a car.
Anyone who registers for the SyScan conference taking place in Beijing from 16-17 July can enter the competition. The organizers told me there will be a Tesla and some computers on site, though they aren’t giving much away on the rules. They gave me some tantalizing examples of what they expect to see from the eventual winner though, including controlling a Tesla from a PC or making the in-dash browser inside the car visit specified websites, presumably to see whether malware infection could be possible in the vehicle.
Tesla Motors already has a good rep when it comes to security. It has a full vulnerability disclosure program, which makes it easy to report any flaws in its cars. It also employed ex-Apple security boffin Kristin Paget to bring high-quality digital safety to drivers.
Yet a spokesperson from Tesla told me it wasn’t involved in the competition, nor is the contest supported by manufacturer. One hopes the researchers who successfully hack the car will at least pass on their findings to Tesla.
Regardless, the car maker has recognized where the world is at when it comes to Internet of Things security: the potential for digital attacks to cause real-world damage has only risen in recent years. As Forbes reported last year, DARPA-funded researchers are being paid to hack cars and they’re succeeding. Researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek managed to take control of Ford and Toyota cars to turn on the breaks and jolt the steering wheel. It was genuinely scary stuff.
Competitions like the one at SyScan should at least spur the research world on to protect the cars of the future, which will be internet-connected, software reliant and increasingly automated. With the right approach, hopefully the world won’t see any tragic compromises of automobiles in the future.