Getting Root Access On A Tesla

A growing number of manufacturers are locking perfectly good hardware behind arbitrary software restrictions. While this ought to be a bigger controversy, people seem to keep paying for things like printers with ink subscriptions, cameras with features disabled in firmware, or routers with speed restrictions, ensuring that this practice continues. Perhaps the most blatant is car manufacturers that lock features such as heated seats or even performance upgrades in the hopes of securing a higher price for their vehicles. This might be a thing of the past for Teslas, whose software has been recently unlocked by Berlin IT researchers.

Researchers from Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin were able to unlock Tesla’s driving assistant by inducing a two-microsecond voltage drop on the processor which allowed root access to the Autopilot software. Referring to this as “Elon mode” since it drops the requirement for the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel, they were able to access the full self-driving mode allowing autonomous driving without driver input. Although this might be a bad idea based on the performance of “full self-driving” in the real world, the hack at least demonstrates a functional attack point and similar methods could provide free access to other premium features.

While the attack requires physical access to the vehicle’s computer and a well-equipped workbench, in the short term this method might allow for owners of vehicles to use hardware they own however they would like, and in the long term perhaps may make strides towards convincing manufacturers that “features as a service” isn’t a profitable strategy. Perhaps that’s optimistic, but at least for Teslas it’s been shown that they’re not exactly the most secured system on four wheels.

Root, On An Amazon Echo Dot

The Amazon Echo has become an indispensable device for many people unconcerned by its privacy implications. It’s easy to forget that it’s not quite a new product anymore, with the oldest examples now long in the tooth enough to no longer receive security updates. A surprise is that far from being mere clients to Amazon cloud services, they in fact run a version of Android. This makes old dots interesting to experimenters, but first is it possible to gain root access? [Daniel B] has managed it, on a second-generation Echo Dot.

In a sense, this is nothing new, as root has previously been achieved on an Echo Dot through means of a patched kernel. Echo devices use a chain of trust boot process in which each successive step must verify the Amazon signing of the previous one. The kernel patch method breaks the ability to reboot the device with root access. [Daniel’s] method bypasses that chain of trust by using a custom pre-loader injected over USB through an exploit.

As an example, [Daniel] created a web server on his Dot, which can serve audio captured by the device. Don’t panic just yet — an analysis of the other security features suggests that this is not the dangerous exploit it might seem. It does however open up these powerful but now pretty cheap devices as potentially usable for other purposes, which can only be a good thing.

We’ve previously brought you [Daniel]’s work freeing the WiFi details from a Dot.

Photo of the head unit , with "Hacked by greenluigi1" in the center of the UI

Hacker Liberates Hyundai Head Unit, Writes Custom Apps

[greenluigi1] bought a Hyundai Ioniq car, and then, to our astonishment, absolutely demolished the Linux-based head unit firmware. By that, we mean that he bypassed all of the firmware update authentication mechanisms, reverse-engineered the firmware updates, and created subversive update files that gave him a root shell on his own unit. Then, he reverse-engineered the app framework running the dash and created his own app. Not just for show – after hooking into the APIs available to the dash and accessible through header files, he was able to monitor car state from his app, and even lock/unlock doors. In the end, the dash got completely conquered – and he even wrote a tutorial showing how anyone can compile their own apps for the Hyundai Ionic D-Audio 2V dash.

In this series of write-ups [greenluigi1] put together for us, he walks us through the entire hacking process — and they’re a real treat to read. He covers a wide variety of things: breaking encryption of .zip files, reprogramming efused MAC addresses on USB-Ethernet dongles, locating keys for encrypted firmware files, carefully placing backdoors into a Linux system, fighting cryptic C++ compilation errors and flag combinations while cross-compiling the software for the head unit, making plugins for proprietary undocumented frameworks; and many other reverse-engineering aspects that we will encounter when domesticating consumer hardware.

This marks a hacker’s victory over yet another computer in our life that we aren’t meant to modify, and a meticulously documented victory at that — helping each one of us fight back against “unmodifiable” gadgets like these. After reading these tutorials, you’ll leave with a good few new techniques under your belt. We’ve covered head units hacks like these before, for instance, for Subaru and Nissan, and each time it was a journey to behold.

Major Bug Grants Root For All Major Linux Distributions

One of the major reasons behind choosing Linux as an operating system is that it’s much more secure than Windows. There are plenty of reasons for this including appropriate user permissions, installing software from trusted sources and, of course, the fact that most software for Linux including the Linux kernel itself is open source which allows anyone to review the code for vulnerabilities. This doesn’t mean that Linux is perfectly secure though, as researchers recently found a major bug found in most major Linux distributions that allows anyone to run code as the root user.

The exploit is a memory corruption vulnerability in Polkit, a framework that handles the privilege level of various system processes. It specifically impacts the program pkexec. With the proof-of-concept exploit (file download warning) in hand, all an attacker needs to do to escalate themselves to root is to compile the program on the computer and run it as the default user. An example is shown by [Jim MacDonald] on Twitter for those not willing to try this on their own machines.

As bad as this sounds, it seems as though all of the major distributions that this impacts have already released updates that patch the issue, including Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Fedora, open SUSE, and Arch. There is also a temporary workaround that removes read/write permission from the pkexec program so it can’t run at all. That being said, it might be best to check that your Linux systems are all up-to-date and that no strangers have been typing random commands into the terminal recently.

Software Removes The Facebook From Facebook’s VR Headset (Mostly)

It’s not a jailbreak, but [basti564]’s Oculess software nevertheless allows one the option to remove telemetry and account dependencies from Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headsets. It is not normally possible to use these devices without a valid Facebook account (or a legacy Oculus account in the case of the original Quest), so the ability to flip any kind of disconnect switch without bricking the hardware is a step forward, even if there are a few caveats to the process.

To be clear, the Quest devices still require normal activation and setup via a Facebook account. But once that initial activation is complete, Oculess allows one the option of disabling telemetry or completely disconnecting the headset from its Facebook account. Removing telemetry means that details about what apps are launched, how the device is used, and all other usage-related data is no longer sent to Facebook. Disconnecting will log the headset out of its account, but doing so means apps purchased from the store will no longer work and neither will factory-installed apps like Oculus TV or the Oculus web browser.

What will still work is the ability to sideload unsigned software, which are applications that are neither controlled nor distributed by Facebook. Sideloading isn’t on by default; it’s enabled by putting the headset into Developer Mode (a necessary step to installing Oculess in the first place, by the way.) There’s a fairly active scene around unsigned software for the Quest headsets, as evidenced by the existence of the alternate app store SideQuest.

Facebook’s control over their hardware and its walled-garden ecosystem continues to increase, but clearly there are people interested in putting the brakes on where they can. It’s possible the devices might see a full jailbreak someday, but even if so, what happens then?

Rooting The Atari VCS 800

The Atari VCS 800 is a modern product, a hybrid of a PC and a games console. Fundamentally, its a bunch of modern chips in a box running Linux that will let you browse the web or emulate some old games. Now, thanks to [ArcadeHustle], you can have persistent root access to the VCS 800 at your leisure.

The trick is simple, and begins by interrupting the systemd startup scripts on boot. One can then merge files into the /etc directory to achieve root access, either by the tty terminal or over TCP. It’s all wrapped up in the script available at the Github link above.

You can actually run a variety of OSs on the hardware, as it’s powered by an AMD Ryzen R1606G CPU and runs straightforward PC architecture. However, if you want to customize the existing OS to do your bidding, this hack is the way to go.

Hacking to get root access is key if you want to get anywhere with a system. We’ve seen it done on thin clients as well as car infotainment systems to give the owner full control over the hardware they own. If you’ve got your own root exploit you’d like to share, do drop us a line, won’t you?


Linux Fu: Superpowers For Mere Mortals

You can hardly mention the sudo command without recalling the hilarious XKCD strip about making sandwiches. It does seem like sudo is the magic power to make a Linux system do what you want. The only problem is that those superpowers are not something to be taken lightly.

CC-BY-NC-2.5 by [XKCD]
If you are surfing the web, for example, you really don’t want to be root, because if someone naughty takes over your computer they could do a lot more harm with your root password. But still, there are times when you want to run certain commands that are normally root-only and don’t want to bother with a password. Luckily, sudo can handle that use case very easily.


As a simple example, suppose you like to shut your computer down at the end of the day. You run the shutdown command from the terminal but it doesn’t work because you aren’t root. You then have to do it again with sudo and if you haven’t logged in lately, provide your password. Ugh.

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