Researchers expose VW security flaw

Concerns about the vulnerability of modern cars to hacking attacks have been heightened by the news that four researchers from the University of Birmingham have replicated the master keys for millions of VWs built since 1995.

The computer security research team used $40 worth of freely available electronic equipment to reverse engineer VW’s encrypted master keys, allowing them to unlock the cars. And it’s not just VWs, it’s others from the VW group as well, including Seats, Audis and Skodas.

The team published their work in a paper for a security symposium.

"It is conceivable that all VW Group (except for some Audi) cars manufactured in the past and partially today rely on a 'constant-key' scheme and are thus vulnerable to the attacks," the paper said.

If there’s any comfort in this for VW owners its that the process only allows thieves to open the doors, not start the cars, and the fact that the researchers are not about to tell the world exactly how they did it.

VW claims that 2016 models from the VW group, like the Golf, Tiguan, Touran (not sold in Australia) and Passat models are not vulnerable to the hacking attack.

"This current vehicle generation is not afflicted by the problems described," VW spokesman Peter Weisheit said in a statement.

However this has been contradicted by the research paper’s co-author, Flavio Garcia.

"There are still some VW car models being sold that are not on the latest platform and which remain vulnerable to attack," Garcia said.

Those models include the 2016 Audi Q3.

Cars from other manufacturers may also be at risk from tech savvy criminals. The system was supplied by a parts supplier, not developed by VW, so it’s possible that the same technology has found its way into other cars as well.

Some models of the Ford Galaxy sold in Europe are known to be vulnerable to the attack.

“We are aware of this security gap and have incorporated this knowledge in the enhancements of existing and future systems. We no longer use the described system in any of our new cars,” Ford Europe spokesman John Gardiner said.

For VW it’s just more bad news that comes off the back of its biggest corporate scandal, when it was discovered to be manipulating emission tests in millions of vehicles worldwide.

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Categories: Technology, Volkswagen
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