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Tesla hack targets Illinois family

A Tesla model S
Ron Antonelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Tesla model S

The questions came from as far away as South Africa, "Hey. Can I have a free Tesla?"

Hundreds of similar requests rushed in to two cellphones owned by the Strater family, everyone asking the same thing. One guy even showed up at the Straters' home, outside of Chicago. As Paul Strater tells it, the stranger wanted to see inside the family's garage, to make sure his free Tesla wasn't stashed in there.

The queries stemmed from tweets made Saturday afternoon on the verified Twitter handles of @TeslaMotors and @ElonMusk. The notes all read something along the lines of "Get a free Tesla, call…," and then the mobile phone numbers for Amy Strater or her son, Blair Henry Strater, were offered up.

The tweets were deleted soon after the Twitter feeds were hacked, but the retweets are still rolling through the ether.

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Paul Strater, Blair's dad, answered the stream of calls. He's in broadcast media and doesn't mind talking to all the hopeful callers.

"It's been a long weekend," Paul Strater said. "At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, I didn't know what a Tesla was; I thought 'Elon Musk' was a men's fragrance."

He describes his 20-year-old son as a type of "white hat" hacker, one who points out cybersecurity lapses to corporations and the like. "What he does with computers is shocking, frightening and impressive at the same time," he said.

The name Blair Henry Strater was associated with the hacking of Malaysian Airlines' website earlier this year, although his role in that was unclear.

The Strater family believes that they've been targeted by a teenage Finnish hacker, Julius Kivimaki, who has a history of hackings and cybermischief documented by Brian Krebs of Krebs Security.

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation confirmed that Kivimaki is suspected to be connected with the Tesla hack, which affected the two verified Twitter feeds and TeslaMotors.com.

"We are aware of possible connection between Kivimaki and Tesla Twitter feed hack," said Tero Muurman, detective chief inspector with the NBI Poliisi, Tuesday by email. "However, with information available, we cannot open criminal investigation without Tesla's official request for prosecution."

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Someone claiming to be Kivimaki later contacted CNBC and denied any involvement with the Tesla hack. "I think Tesla is an extraordinary company doing some quite groundbreaking work on the green-tech field," he said.

For its part, Tesla said it is doing what it can to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

"A federal investigation is underway, and we are cooperating with all proper authorities," a Tesla spokeswoman said.

Although Paul Strater said his son has been interviewed by the FBI, he said they told him they couldn't do anything since Kivimaki isn't on American soil. The FBI didn't immediately return calls for comment.

Aside from just flooding the Straters' phones with free-Tesla calls, the family has been seemingly targeted with other annoyances, some more serious than others. Paul Strater said the police have been called to his house via the Internet multiple times, including once over a claim that Amy Strater had been killed. That particular incident dragged the whole family out of bed at 3 a.m. so that authorities could take Amy Strater's blood pressure and record it for their paperwork.

"That's the kind of hell someone can put you through," Paul Strater said. "A child from overseas can do this to an American citizen, and there's nothing they can do about it."

The Oswego Police Department confirmed that several false reports have been called in about the Strater residence. "If it was somebody in Finland, we would have a hard time prosecuting that," said Jeff Burgner, Oswego's chief of police. The idea of having hackers take swipes at each other in the real world didn't surprise Burgner, although he said it's still pretty rare.

"We're dealing with people who are very technically savvy," he said.

The Straters say the harassment has gone on for the better part of a year; their cable and power have at times been disconnected remotely, and they've received a stream of charge-on-delivery orders for pizza and flowers.