Virus protection

Virus protection

Now that the first "third-party apps" have started to appear such as the larger clock, how do we protect our cars from viruses? How do we insure that downloading these apps won't cause problems? I think Tesla should come up with a certification process whereby outside application developers can submit their apps for certification by Tesla. Once Tesla has tested the app and given it its seal of approval, then we Tesla owners could be assured that downloading it would be safe. Also, what about surfing the web. What if any virus and malware protection is installed in our cars?

Brian H | 17 november 2012

All true, but the clock is not an app. It is a web page, and does not otherwise interface with the car.

BYT | 17 november 2012

Don't browse porn on your Model S 17" screen!

jerry3 | 17 november 2012

The Model S doesn't use Windows, so there's not really a problem with malware.

TikiMan | 17 november 2012

The web part of the car is more similar to the system in a Google tablet / iPad system, than an actual computer with a windows operating system. I don't think it's system that can be attacked by your typical pop-up spam, malware, etc. It also doesn't have flash, so no videos.

stevenmaifert | 17 november 2012

Hasn't history shown us anything connected to the outside world is vulnerable? You can bet there is some evil genius in Shanghai working on a hack right now.

Peter Spirgel | 17 november 2012

@stevenmaifert. That's what I'm concerned about. I understand the system used by Tesla may be more similar to the iPad system; however, iPads can get viruses. Once you connect a device to the Internet, my understanding is you can get viruses. Am I the only one that thinks that any third party apps should be vetted by Tesla before we install them on the car's operating system?

Timo | 17 november 2012

Trojans are more than likely eventually. Remote-installed without user intervention malwares not so likely (any semi-good firewall is enough to prevent those).

People here constantly say that windows is vulnerable. That's not true, not anymore. It's just that there are a lot more windows computers out there than there are anything else. Get any OS with reasonable standardization common enough and you start to get malwares in them. Linux has them, but mostly only for Apache web server, and that is precisely because that is quite common system and worth attacking.

@Peter, I'm with you about the vetting. Only software certified by Tesla should go into car. That's about the only way to be reasonably sure that things don't go wrong at some point.

Captain_Zap | 17 november 2012

I agree about Tesla certifying software as well. I think it would be great if there was a means to ensure that nothing is dowloaded or installed without going through a Tesla gateway for verification or getting a Tesla key.

Another option is to keep software on a separate device just use Tesla's screen as a montior and the sound system for audio. (If that is not already a capability)

Not only is there some factions out there that really don't like the thought of Tesla suceeding, some of them are organized.
There is privacy matters to consider. (i.e. GPS info and driving habits.)

It's gets spooky once one becomes aware of some of the devices and components that quietly harbor malware and spyware or have that capability.

(Donning tin foil hat.)

bobinfla | 17 november 2012

Things get even scarier out there. Watched a TV special recently discussing security of everyday devices now that so many have incorporated some sort of computer controls. They demonstrated how they could hack into a car through it's wireless phone connection, unlock the doors and start the engine all remotely so an on-scene accomplice could get right in and drive it away. In another demonstration they remotely hacked a car and caused it to slam on the brakes while it was being driven. Gonna need a Faraday cage built into our cars someday to keep them safe.

Timo | 17 november 2012

Reminds me of the computer skeleton key I saw on one of the security seminars. If you have firewire connector in your computer that device could give you free access to it. Apparently firewire devices grant you full access to computer memory so entering any password at password screen that device told the computer that that password was a correct one.

This in turn makes it pretty impossible to secure your data as long as person has access to physical device.

I and my friend once counted how many devices we could physically break from the computer using software (90s, current count might be quite different). It was quite frightening mental exercise, nearly all components were vulnerable. To give example you can tell HD that it has SCSI connector. After that it no longer recognizes any other bus including the one you used to give the command, so you would need to physically remove the circuit and replace it with clean one to fix it.

I wonder if it is possible to make such skeleton key to Model S cars as it was for computers using the known vulnerabilities in RFID protocols. I don't know how smart the keyfob really is.

mrspaghetti | 17 november 2012


In another demonstration they remotely hacked a car and caused it to slam on the brakes while it was being driven.

Show me a car where the brakes can be actuated via software, either locally or remotely. Until then I label that demonstration a fake.

mrspaghetti | 17 november 2012


This in turn makes it pretty impossible to secure your data as long as person has access to physical device.

How is that different than any other hardware? If someone has physical access to it, you're pretty well screwed at that point no matter what other safeguards you tried to put in place. They could steal it, vandalize it, put a bomb in it or whatever. Hacking is the last thing you should be worried about if bad guys have physical access to your Model S.

IMO, most of the people who get viruses/malware do so through their own stupidity. That is most especially true if you are running Linux or MacOS (which runs on the Linux kernel anyway).

Don't expect the Model S to be idiot-proof. If it is, it will be another "first of its kind" accomplishment for Elon. But I think that is an impossible task even for him.

Captain_Zap | 17 november 2012

Even a brand new USB drive can have malaware or viruses. Components in a device can have things hidden in it.
Scan everything.

dubaty | 17 november 2012

So will we be able to install anti-virus software or does the car come with one already installed? Another question I have, which I will also post as a separate thread, is whether there is a rollback option for the software. Inevitably, an updated version comes along that makes things worse rather than better. Does anyone know if there is a procedure for rolling back to the prior version?

DouglasR | 17 november 2012

tesla.mrspaghet +1

This is weird. We can't install ANY programs on the car yet: no apps, no antivirus programs, and no malware that anyone has reported. I requested an API in the software enhancement thread, and I suppose if we had an API, we might need to worry (although I don't know who would bother to write code that could infect at most a couple of thousand devices). Maybe if we were using the car to enrich uranium . . .

Do we even know whether java or java script will run on this browser? How about Flash, ActiveX, etc.?

The only plausible software intrusions with the current system would be a rogue Tesla employee who could access the car remotely.

Timo | 18 november 2012

We know that there is no flash, I expect that there will not be java either. Javascript yes, but that is just a script language and can't actually do much. ActiveX no, it is not IE. Silverlight possibly but I doubt that. HTML5 -capable browser should not really need any of those extra gizmos, unfortunately there are a lot of more or less badly made websites out there that utilize one or two of the techs, mostly because whoever has designed them thinks that it is cool (and doesn't know any other way).

@tesla.mrspaghetti, what is important in computers is the data they contain, not the hardware. Hardware is disposable, someones research data, family pictures etc. are not. It was scary to see someone getting into crypted HD just like if there were no security systems at all. It's like if you have two locks in your door and alarm systems and then someone walks in and opens the door and disarms the alarm with one single key.

MB3 | 18 november 2012

@tesla.mrspaghet. "Show me a car where the brakes can be actuated via software, either locally or remotely. Until then I label that demonstration a fake."

I saw a commercial for the car stopping itself when a small child on a trike crossed behind a car backing up. That must be software controlled.

MB3 | 18 november 2012

That said. I do not believe viruses to be a real threat here. The software responsible for the core functions of the car is completely isolated from the software on the main screen or dash. The car will run just fine without the main screen.
Also, I don't see a complete parallel between software controlling the display in a car and my home or work computer. I don't have precious data stored primarily in my cars computer. I think the car's data as semi-volatile. I can easily reload what I need. A virus infection represents a much smaller risk in the car than at home.

Timo | 18 november 2012

Viruses rarely are threat if you somehow manage to eliminate user from the equation. The biggest threat to security is between chair and the keyboard.

jerry3 | 18 november 2012

mrspaghe -- if you are running Linux or MacOS (which runs on the Linux kernel anyway)

Sorry, that's not correct. OS X is a certified Unix and runs BSD Unix. It doesn't use the Linux kernel. You're point about mostly user stupidity is correct.

stevenmaifert | 18 november 2012

From what I'm reading here, it appears the browser in Model S lacks the functionality to do anything more than just display static Web pages. Yes?

Timo | 18 november 2012

I'm guessing javascript is allowed and probably also HTML5 so not just static. Just most old "fancy" badly written websites probably wont work.

jerry3 | 18 november 2012


No videos will be allowed because some places prohibit videos from being seen from the driver's seat.

Captain_Zap | 18 november 2012

I hope they change that so that a video can be watched while a parking brake is set. It would be nice to watch something while charging on a road trip.

bobinfla | 18 november 2012

@tesla.mrspaghet. "Show me a car where the brakes can be actuated via software, either locally or remotely. Until then I label that demonstration a fake."

May have been done via some sort of collision avoidance sensor (as MB3 stated above), or aren't anti-locking brakes and/or traction control computer controlled application of the brakes? Wish I could remember the show better, but it's been a few weeks and unfortunately my brain got full a couple years back, so now everything new that goes in knocks out something previous.

DouglasR | 18 november 2012

Maybe we can persuade a current Model S owner to try clicking random links on various websites just to see what will happen. How bad could it be? ;)

Timo | 18 november 2012

ABS, sensors etc. and what car does based on that kind of information are a grey area in transition between software and hardware. There is actually "software" inside processors in a meaning that they do something logical from the signals based on some coding, but that software is done using hardware. There is whole chain between that extremely low level coding and something like touchscreen interface.

I would put that question a bit differently: "Show me a car where the brakes can be actuated via user controlled software, either locally or remotely."

And even then it depends of how low level hacking you are willing to go (when it is done "locally").

mustangez | 18 november 2012

So from what I have read, mostly on this Tesla Forum, the OS is Linux based and there will be a Java SDK for developers to create apps which will be available through Tesla's App area or "store". Much like Google does.
I don't know exactly what distribution of Lunix it is, but really no matter what distribution it is, it is likely to have vulnerabilities as does Java. So there is always a chance to get infected. I think the worst an infection could do though is open your roof (which is bad if it raining out), but can't control the car functions.

BTW I work for an Anti-Virus company. Once I take delivery, I will have one of our top virus analysts take a look at it and see what we can develop for it.

DouglasR | 18 november 2012


I'm not aware of any Java SDK. If you saw that, please post a link. In the "Software Enhancements" thread, I suggested an API and an App Store, but so far, that is just a wish-list item.

jerry3 | 18 november 2012


Telsa originally announced that there would be an SDK to create third party Apps but that it wouldn't be available for at least a year after shipments began. (I would suggest that be read as "At least a year after 'P' shipments begin").

What isn't know is how complete that SDK will be. It could be just a bunch of APIs.

jerry3 | 18 november 2012

As far as I know, no language was specified.

mrspaghetti | 18 november 2012

Ok, I stand corrected about the Mac OS. I'm also willing to consider that it's possible to maliciously actuate the brakes on some cars by hacking them. I haven't seen or heard any indications that the Model S would be susceptible to that particular attack though. I think the friction brakes are basically "dumb", and that's how I like them :)

DouglasR | 18 november 2012

Thanks, all, for the links and references. I was unaware that TM had promised an SDK or API. Still, I think we need to see what processes will be exposed before worrying about virus protection.

Mark E | 18 november 2012

Since you can reboot the centre and dashboard systems independently - and while driving- I suspect that they are in fact separated. The level of separation would be interesting, I'm not sure that I'd want a single memory error crashing the drive circuitry, ABS, power steering assist, lights, door locks and windows simultaneously!

Most current cars use separate 'ECUs' to control those functions. It's possible that they are linked but operate independently.

While not particularly concerned with viruses for the Model S, I am concerned to make sure that it can't be accessed and compromised remotely. It would need to use proper authentication - two factor, not just a password! I'm hoping that it does this already.

dbullard | 18 november 2012

FYI, it's pretty much impossible for an un-jailbroken iPad/iPhone to get a virus - they're severely sandboxed (i.e., constrained in what system resources they can use), and are forbidden to execute programs from writable memory. That is, they can't write data somewhere and then execute it as a program. In short, you can only access and modify what Apple allows you to - and when you submit an app to the AppStore, you have to tell them exactly what permissions you'll need.

Contrast that to a normal desktop environment where you can execute anything from anywhere with all permissions, and you'll see why iOS is a pretty safe environment.

I would assume that Tesla will have the customizable portion of the car done in a similar way - the basic functions are iron-clad, while other areas are modifiable. If it were up to me, they'd be on separate processors and memory, just sharing display access, but that's probably overkill.

Vawlkus | 19 november 2012

There's also Linux's modular nature to consider. Windows main problem with virii & malware is that the OS underlying it isn't modular, everything running is dependent on other parts of the OS functioning. Linux is modular so if one part of it stops functioning, it won't affect any other parts, and can be isolated if need be.

Currently, there are very few virii that can affect Mac OS & Unix based systems mostly because they aren't as prevalent as Windows based systems are. I forget the numbers, but it's something like 90-95% of OS's in use are Windows based.

IMHO, while its not impossible for a Model S to be affected by virii/malware, the possibility of it happening is vanishingly remote.

TV | 22 januari 2013

What is the size of the entire OS for the computer?
Is it a good idea to do a thumbdrive backup? I don't have my Model S yet, so I don't even know if there is a USB port, but if there isn't, there should be. That way, you can load the OS onto the thumbdrive, then just reinstall...good idea, or stupid?

DouglasR | 22 januari 2013

No one has posted or published any way to access a command line to control the "computer." There is probably a way to do it, but it hasn't been made public. Basically, what you have is a browser -- and a stripped down browser at that. No way to save files, much less the OS.

Vawlkus | 23 januari 2013

I actually wonder if each Model S has a secured partition where a Read Only copy of the OS software is kept. That way, should a wipe and reload be needed, it can be done on the road, rather than needing any prehipheral hardware.