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High-tech thieves used a relay attack to steal a Tesla Model S

Oct 23, 20183 mins

Using a tablet and phone, thieves were able to capture the signal from the key fob and steal the Tesla Model S, since the owner did not enable the PIN to Drive security feature or at least keep the key fob in a Faraday cage.

Tesla Model S
Credit: Tesla

Tesla owners, if you haven’t enabled the PIN to Drive security feature to safeguard your very expensive ride, then hopefully watching the security footage of thieves quickly stealing a Tesla Model S will serve to make it a priority.

Antony Kennedy, the owner of the Model S, caught surveillance footage of his fine ride being heisted. One of the crooks appears to use a tablet to capture the signal from the key fob located in the Essex, England, house. The second thief with a mobile phone in hand waits next to the car door. The relay attack took under 50 seconds until they had successfully tricked the car into responding as if the owner was standing there with the key fob.

In fact, the high-tech thieves spent more time trying to figure out how to unplug the cable charging the Tesla than pulling off the relay attack to steal it.

The video, Kennedy said, was posted in response to no one on the Tesla forum believing him about the theft. He posted it “to shut them up.”

His first call wasn’t to the cops; instead he called Tesla first, hoping the company could help him find his car. Due to GPS tracking technology, Tesla was reportedly able to recovery all stolen vehicles in 2016. In this case, however, Tesla was unable to hone in on the car. Kennedy told Motherboard, “Tesla can’t do anything. “The car is offline. I think it had the SIM removed (good reason to not have a physical SIM and use a eSIM instead) or blocked.”

Two hours later, he called the Essex Police, handed over his security camera footage and information he sleuthed from Facebook about another person who was also targeted by the car-stealing duo. Kennedy seems pretty hot that the cops “haven’t even called me back.” He believes his Tesla is likely in a shipping container on its way to Europe by now.

Unlike in Kennedy’s case, the cops actually got involved when the 2018 Tesla Model X of Milwaukee Bucks Vice President Alex Lasry was stolen during the Bucks’ home opening game on Friday. Milwaukee police told Fox 6 that the thieves “somehow” got hold of the keys, but since Lasry would not comment about the theft, it is unclear if the thieves hacked their way inside or physically had keys. At any rate, WISN 12 News said the stolen Tesla was found after it was involved in a police chase.

After the last big round of news about hackers cloning a Tesla Model S key fob in two seconds to steal the car, Tesla reminded the press that it had released a PIN to Drive feature. Even if thieves manage to open a Tesla, a PIN has to be entered on the center console touchscreen before the car will shift into drive. Kennedy readily admitted that he did not set up Tesla’s PIN to Drive.

If your vehicle has keyless entry and you don’t have a “Faraday pouch” in which to keep them, then go old school and “put your keys in the freezer, which acts as a Faraday Cage, and won’t allow a signal to get in or out.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.