Volkswagen Created A 'Backdoor' To Basically All Its Cars… And Now Hackers Can Open All Of Them

from the backdoors-are-bad-m'kay? dept

And… for our latest example for why requiring companies to build backdoors into encryption or similar technologies is a bad idea comes from automaker Volkswagen. Researchers are now revealing that approximately 100 million VW vehicles can be easily opened via a simple wireless hack. The underlying issue: a static key used on basically all of the wireless locks in VWs.

The researchers found that with some ?tedious reverse engineering? of one component inside a Volkswagen?s internal network, they were able to extract a single cryptographic key value shared among millions of Volkswagen vehicles. By then using their radio hardware to intercept another value that?s unique to the target vehicle and included in the signal sent every time a driver presses the key fob?s buttons, they can combine the two supposedly secret numbers to clone the key fob and access to the car. ?You only need to eavesdrop once,? says Birmingham researcher David Oswald. ?From that point on you can make a clone of the original remote control that locks and unlocks a vehicle as many times as you want.?

In other words, VW created a backdoor, and assumed that it would remain hidden. But it did not.

This is exactly the kind of point that we’ve been making about the problems of requiring any kind of backdoor and not enabling strong encryption. Using a single encryption key across every device is simply bad security. Forcing any kind of backdoor into any security system creates just these kinds of vulnerabilities — and eventually someone’s going to figure out how they work.

On a related note, the article points out that the researchers who found this vulnerability are the same ones who also found another vulnerability a few years ago that allowed them to start the ignition of a bunch of VW vehicles. And VW’s response… was to sue them and try to keep the vulnerability secret for nearly two years. Perhaps, rather than trying to sue these researchers, they should have thrown a bunch of money at them to continue their work, alert VW and help VW make their cars safer and better protected.

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Companies: volkswagen

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Comments on “Volkswagen Created A 'Backdoor' To Basically All Its Cars… And Now Hackers Can Open All Of Them”

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mcinsand (profile) says:

Re: Re: going after the criminals

>We need to make a law to stop these criminals from doing
>>the crime!

First, we need to criminalize the addition of backdoors. Then, we go after those that either intentionally add the backdoors or abuse official powers to coerce companies to add backdoors. Finally, lock said criminals up, as appropriate. As for the lock holding the criminals in cells, no backdoors and whether or not the key is thrown away depends on how many people have security undermined by said backdoors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, that does not surprice me at all. I have a very strobg feeling this sort of hack will soon be extended to ALL cars sold since 1995. I mean, serioulsy, can you really expect an encryption scheme developed to work in a car in 1995 stand any chance against modern computers?

Good thing though, I am sure it is easy to just update your fob and car with the upcoming security update!

DannyB (profile) says:

Look at it another way

They’re just trying to help police / FBI get into people’s cars without a trace. For example, when you are in your car, the door is locked and the police are screaming / demanding to search your car for no stated reason.

If Apple would be as cooperative as VW, then the police / FBI could search your phone too.

And VW’s backdoor unlock technique would never be abused. Hear that Apple! (sarcasm)

bob says:

if it isn't broke don't fix it.

I know that most readers here focus a lot on security. However, there is a lot of other considerations that need to be made when designing a larger system of systems.

Using the same key for every car is silly from a security point of view. However when designing and manufacturing a product you can’t only consider security as the most important thing.

If they used different keys that would also mean needing to maintain different copies of the firmware or at least track which car has which key. Manufacturers also might need to have access to keys. Then if VW has to issue a recall for a firmware update it becomes a bigger hassle for repairmen, owners, manufacturers.

In the end maintaining multiple keys over 20+ years might be more expensive than issuing out a blanket update later on or replacing the car’s parts if needed.

Security costs money but the company might lose more than money if crap hits the fan.

I think in this particular case VW was just being lazy because it hadn’t been broken for so long they figured it was okay.

Just some stuff to consider.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: if it isn't broke don't fix it.

Physical keys: Unless you get a new set of locks installed, the manufacturer can look up your car and find the correct key code, and manufacture a new key from that. Had to get a NEW key made to the old code for my car because the key I had for the driver’s door was no longer working on the trunk due to 25 years of wear.

Any digital keys would require no significant additional database storage. And you can bet your boots that they do indeed retain (digital) key information. Any changes to the key (or fob) required by firmware updates would be retained as well … and the firmware update would be added to the record for your car.

As the data is stored per-car, the firmware portion of the key can be varied per car as well.

Remember that this attack captures the “user” portion of the key via the fob. So long as the firmware key is not varied per-car, a simple dictionary attack will crack the car open easily.

Heck, if the key size is small enough, you can brute force it even if they vary it per-car. Especially as you have the fob’s key already.

… or you can simply gain access to the manufacturer’s database and game over, man.

Whose bright idea was it to make your car radio controlled in the first place?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: if it isn't broke don't fix it.

No firmware changes are required to support each car having a unique key. Also, there is no technical reason why the car manufacturer would have to have a record of the key that goes with each car.

“So long as the firmware key is not varied per-car, a simple dictionary attack will crack the car open easily.”

This isn’t correct. Most remote car unlockers use a rotating key system or a computational exchange, specifically to foil dictionary attacks or attackers sniffing the unlock signal to reproduce it. There are a few different ways this is done, some better than others, but the net effect is that a different key is needed for each unlock.

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