Elon Musk announced at an industry event in China that Tesla will work with regulators worldwide to improve its data security. Tesla vehicles are capable of sending data from their sensors and cameras to a remote server, which has caused both governments and consumer advocacy groups to express concerns about cybersecurity.
Consumer Reports has especially expressed concerns about the privacy of Tesla owners and passengers. The interior cameras could capture footage of activities that could reasonably be expected to be private and send them to Tesla’s servers. It is possible for owners to “opt out” of sending vehicle interior footage to Tesla, but they may not know that this option exists.
China has especially gotten into a tug-of-war with Tesla over concerns about possible espionage. It banned Tesla vehicles from parking at government facilities out of concern that their cameras could capture video footage of sensitive activities at those facilities. Although the company has denied that the cameras are active in China in the past, Tesla has attempted to address some of the Chinese government’s concerns about possible espionage by building a datacenter to store any video footage that might be captured by the cameras.
The possibility of a camera system cybersecurity issue was especially highlighted when a “hacktivist” group called the APT-69420 Arson Cats hacked into a camera surveillance system used by a variety of facilities, including a facility that Tesla says belonged to a supplier in China. The Arson Cats claim that their goal was to expose the extent to which various facilities, including ICU wards, were surveilled, and even made footage of patients in ICU beds public. The camera systems are operated by a security company named Verkanda, which said that it has since shut down the administrator accounts that the Arson Cats accessed and investigated the incident.
Elon Musk acknowledged that a similar hacking incident could hit vehicles that are becoming increasingly computerized during his appearance in China. Driver assist programs will especially require a wide array of interior and exterior cameras and sensors. Some of Tesla’s interior sensors and cameras, like a recently activated camera on the rearview mirror, are designed to track the alertness of a driver.
“With the rapid growth of autonomous driving technologies, data security of vehicles is drawing more public concerns than ever before,” he said during the World New Energy Vehicle Congress.
These concerns may be increased by Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, both of which can send video, sensor, and driving data back to the supercomputers that it uses to train its AI. Tesla can provide this data, plus logs of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving usage, to law enforcement agencies to help them investigate vehicle accidents and crimes.
The logs have already proven that the Autopilot was not active at the time of a fatal crash in Texas last April that sparked calls from Congress for regulators to probe possible safety issues with the Autopilot. (Perhaps Congress was simply not kept up to date on that one.) The video footage generated by Tesla cameras have also helped solve cases like a string of BB gun shootings in California and a one-man string of hate crimes in Missouri.
While there has not yet news of a hack of Tesla’s supercomputers, Musk seems intent on staying ahead of the game on this department by working with regulators on the data security issue even though he has certainly expressed annoyance with them often enough. He has previously accused the SEC of protecting short sellers of stock like Tesla’s and also blasted the FAA for regulation-related delays that hurt the launch schedule of SpaceX’s Starship test models. However, he may be learning how to pick his battles in this case.