As cars become increasingly computerized, it's hard to ignore that, like your home computer, it's a target for hackers all around the world. Chinese computer security conference SyScan recently promised a $10,000 reward to anyone who had the skills to hack into Tesla Motors' [NSDQ:TSLA] Model S electric car—and one of the contest's sponsors has already shown it can be done.
As Forbes reports, Chinese internet security company Qihoo has announced that it's found ways to remotely control aspects of the Model S, even while the car is in motion. The company has posted screenshots showing several vital functions of the car disabled—such as the ABS and traction control—while the company also "discovered ways to remotely control the car’s lock, horn and flashing lights."
The move could be simply a PR stunt for Qihoo, which is quickly expanding and has even recently invested in a Silicon Valley startup. Forbes suggests that it's a way of scaring Tesla CEO Elon Musk into doing business with Qihoo. This highlights one of the benefits of an otherwise disturbing-sounding pursuit: that those with the ability to hack into otherwise secure systems also have the expertise to make them even safer. The flip-side to this is that Qihoo has previously been accused of theft of users' information, and blocking and uninstalling software on computers using its anti-virus software—so whether you'd want such a company controlling the security of your cars is another matter.
As for the competition's hacking prize, that has already been claimed—to a degree. A team from ZheJiang University managed to pop all the doors open on the Model S, taking a small prize fund—but the $10,000 prize remained unclaimed, as the team failed to take control of the car's electric drive system. That suggests at least some aspects of the car are secure—for now—but as Bloomberg reports, Tesla is keen for those who do find vulnerabilities to pass them on to the company. "We hope that the security researchers will act responsibly and in good faith," said Tesla.