Security Watch

Keeping Track of patches and hacks in the IT security world.

Tesla's Website and Twitter Account Hacked—Briefly

The electric car vendor lost control for 10 minutes but was able to recover quickly from Website and Twitter account hacks.

Tesla hack

Tesla Motors was the victim of a Website and Twitter account hack on April 25. However, the electric car vendor was able to regain control approximately 10 minutes after the attack occurred, which was around 4:50 p.m. EDT, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, Tesla founder Elon Musk's personal Twitter was hacked during the same time period.

For the Tesla Motors Twitter account hack, the attackers labeled themselves as #ripprgang. During the time the attackers controlled the Tesla Twitter account, they tweeted out messages telling followers to call a number to get a free car.

The Tesla Website itself was redirected to a site with ISIS in its address. The official Tesla account has not yet acknowledged or made any mention of the attack. As of yet, there is no official confirmation on how the attack occurred either.

That said, I have a few ideas on what could have occurred. Given that the Tesla site and the Twitter accounts for Tesla Motors and Musk were all compromised, there must have been some form of causal link between them all. The causal link could have been a common password, though right now we don't know for sure.

The other possibility is that the attackers were able to hack the domain registrar behind Tesla Motors, or perhaps they used a phishing attack to get credentials for the domain. With access to Tesla's domain registrar, attackers would be able to change the DNS records and redirect the Tesla Motors site. The attackers could have also redirected email by changing the email (MX) records with the domain registrar.

A quick lookup of the domain shows that in fact there was a change made on April 25. Again this is pure speculation, but that change might well have been made as the first remediation step after the attack. It appears as though Tesla Motors is using the Akamai content delivery network (CDN) as its hosting provider, as well as the open-source Drupal content management system (CMS).

The idea of attacking a domain registrar to redirect and attack a Website is not far-fetched either. On Feb. 25, Lenovo's Website was temporarily redirected as hackers gained access to Lenovo's domain registrar's DNS records. Social media accounts are also often targets for attackers; one of the most high-profile Twitter attacks in 2015 so far was a pro-ISIS takeover over the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Twitter account in January.

In most of the cases that I'm aware of this year, vendors have been able to quickly regain control of their hacked accounts. Tesla's quick response is impressive, though of course, the hack never should have happened in the first place.

The simple truth is that there is (or was) a weak link somewhere in Tesla's domain management policies that an attacker was able to exploit. Given that Tesla does over-the-air (OTA) software updates for its vehicles, I can imagine that a few people might be concerned about the risk to the cars, though I strongly suspect there is little to worry about. Domain infrastructure and Twitter account security are very different from the mechanisms used for OTA. The bottom line though is that Tesla needs to audit all of its security controls and practices to keep both its users and itself as safe as possible.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.