Powertrain encryption

Tesla cars are out of my price reach (and frankly, they are too big for our needs – plus the whole fact that they are not doing another convertible for eleventy eight years….), but they are creating quite the stir around the the world with their product and ‘auto drive’ features.

[Side note. I see one in Terrys not too distant future].

I probably should have been blogging about these cars as I have been learning about them and watching them evolve over the past many years, but can’t go back and fix that, so lets jump in.

Short version. Each car is pretty much a mobile data center. They collect a TON of information and send it back to the mother ship via cellular data.
Since they are so connected, it stands to reason that they are a prime target for hackers to break into.
Elon addressed that in an interview recently.


There were several interesting tidbits of information about Tesla that came out of Elon Musk’s talk at the National Governors Association this weekend, like removing the possibility of a solar roof option on the Model 3 and announcing that 2 or 3 more Tesla Gigafactories are coming to the US.

But Musk also made some interesting comments on Tesla’s approach to cyber security that received less attention.

The increasing connectivity in vehicles has made them more subject to hacking in recent years and there’s no more connected vehicle on the road today than Tesla’s.

Musk continued with what Tesla is doing to try to prevent that:

“We gotta make super sure that a fleet-wide is basically impossible and that if people are in the car, that they have override authority on whatever the car is doing. If the car is doing something wacky, you can press a button that no amount of software can override and ensure that you gain control of the vehicle and cut the link to the servers.”

Then even if someone gains access to the car, Tesla has already implemented some features to prevent taking over important sub-systems. Musk added:

“Within the car, there are multiple sub-systems that have specialized encryption, like the powertrain for example. Even if someone gains access to the car, they cannot take control of the powertrain or braking system.”

That’s something that came to light last year when a Chinese whitehat hacker group, the Keen Security Lab at Tencent (a Chinese conglomerate that later became a major Tesla shareholder), managed to remotely hack the Tesla Model S through a malicious wifi hotspot.

Once gaining access, the hackers were able to upload their own software to take control of the vehicle, but Tesla pushed a fix with code signing to add a cryptographic key to change onboard software. Tesla CTO JB Straubel said at the time:

In short. I want this blog to link back to the one I did a few days ago.
The government wants to remove end to end encryption. Tesla is rolling out end to end encryption because it is so important and vial for life.
To the point where their powertrain, batteries, gearbox and motor – all have encrypted communications between themselves.

I am going to leave this here and hope that you can join the dots.