by Carlos E. Castañeda

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — Tesla Motors is recruiting hackers to help it refine the software that runs much of its electric cars’ systems, following recently-publicized cases of other cars getting hacked.

At the Def Con Hacking Conference in Las Vegas last week, two researchers demonstrated how they were able to remotely access a Model S, shutting down the vehicle’s systems and bringing it to a stop.

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The findings were shared with the company and Tesla has since issued a patch for the vulnerabilities they found. The researchers told CNET their work to hack the Model S actually showed how secure Tesla’s systems were from hacking in general.

Tesla said its presence at the conference was part of a recruiting effort. “Hackers are a crowd that is really important to us,” Tesla Communications Manager Khobi Brooklyn told AFP. “It is a community that we want to be part of, and collaborate with, as well as recruit from.”

Last year at a security conference in Beijing, a Tesla Model S was used in a $10,000 contest to find out if it could be hacked. One team came away with the prize, although they were not able to break into or control the vehicle’s core functions.

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Tesla also has a “bug-bounty” program, offering between $25 and $10,000 to researchers to find vulnerabilities in vehicles or on its website and mobile apps.

Last month, a hacker demonstrated he could break into a Chevrolet Volt’s OnStar mobile service and gain access to the vehicle’s contols and the owner’s personal information. GM issued a fix following the discovery.

Also last month, Fiat Chrysler issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles after hackers took control and hijacked a Jeep Cherokee driven by a journalist.


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Carlos E. Castañeda is Senior Editor, News & Social Media for CBS San Francisco and a San Francisco native. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.