CNBC Report Claims Tesla's EVs Store Unencrypted Crash Data, Navigation Information

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【Summary】A security researcher extracted unencrypted data from Tesla vehicles and found that the electric vehicles held on to a lot of unencrypted data.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Apr 06, 2019 7:00 AM PT
CNBC Report Claims Tesla's EVs Store Unencrypted Crash Data, Navigation Information

Tesla may pack its electric vehicles with the latest driving features, which border on semi-autonomous technology, but that doesn't mean the vehicles are immune to getting into accidents. Blame it on user error or other drivers, but Teslas are still involved in incidents. Unfortunately, if your Tesla is in an accident, it could hold on to a lot of data that you're unaware of. 

What Kind Of Info Do Tesla's Store? 

According to CNBC, the computers found on Teslas retain a lot of information that owners have voluntarily stored onto their cars. That's on top of the information that the EVs already hold on to, including navigational data and video. The outlet points toward a researcher, who wished to call himself GreenTheOnly, extracted all sorts of data from salvaged Model S sedans, Model X SUVs, and Model 3 sedans.

The researcher stated that he, and another fellow hacker called Theo, found unencrypted data from "at least 17 different devices." The data they managed to dig up was astonishing, as they were able to get phonebooks, email addresses, calendar dates, and numbers from 11 drivers or passengers. In regard to the vehicles' navigation systems, the hackers were able to extract the last 73 locations from a Model 3 sedan. 

Teslas are known for having loads of high-tech equipment, like seven cameras that help it operate almost autonomously on the road. Those cameras, though, are also recording footage at the time of an accident, as the researchers were able to retrieve footage from a Model 3's forward-facing camera before it was involved in an accident. 

The Model 3 wasn't the only vehicle the hackers, or researchers, were able to get data out of. They were able to get similar information from Model S sedans and Model X SUVs. While Tesla isn't the only automaker that stores data, it is surprising to see how her about how easy it was for hackers to get the data. 

"Given how technically sophisticated Teslas are, I'm really surprised to learn that they would handle data so carelessly," said Ashkan Soltani, a security researcher and former chief technologist for the FTC, in an email to The Verge. 

Why Tesla Storing Information Is A Big Deal?

GreenTheOnly also pointed toward the problems with how and when Tesla's vehicles record data. "Tesla is not super transparent about what and when they are recording, and storing on internal systems," said GreenTheOnly. "You can opt out of all data collection. But then you lose [over-the-air software updates] and a bunch of other functionality. So, understandably, nobody does that, and I also begrudgingly accepted it." 

As the CNBC report points out, personal data retention is a widespread issue that is well known when it comes to rental vehicles. The issue is so prevalent, that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings to refrain from pairing their smartphone device to rental vehicles and even going so far as to encourage renters to learn how to wipe their rental car's systems before returning the vehicle. 

Vehicles that store data on their passengers is sure to become more commonplace as cars become more high tech and personalized. The issue, then becomes how are automakers gathering data, why are they gathering data, and what they plan to do with the data? Tesla, being the champion of putting technology into consumers' hands certainly isn't putting a good foot forward for the rest of the pack. 

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