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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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:42am

    What's the harm?

    So one exploit allows you to unlock the vehicle, another allows you to start it, what possible use could those two exploits have to anyone with nefarious intent?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      afn29129 (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:56am

      Re: What's the harm?

      Staring the VW while it's inside someone's garage. Carbon monoxide, etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:09pm

      Re: What's the harm?

      Terrorists will mass start vehicles all over the world to cause a combo of global warming and shortage of hydrocarbons. Unless the evil empire of the West embraces some God.

      TERROR!

      Ahem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:15pm

      Re: What's the harm?

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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        mcinsand, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:34pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:44am

    BRB. Shorting VW...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 1:44pm

      Re:

      You've got a BUNCH of shortin' to do... the researchers apparently disclosed to VW (who has responded energetically) late last year, but is still working through the disclosure-and-response process with several other manufacturers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 3:08pm

        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!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:55am

    As bad as this is, it's limited by the technology of the time. Today's vehicles have the potential for more harm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      You mean like almost every vehicle produced by VW till 2016 wouldn't rely on a 10-yr-old+ security scheme? Would it? Derp.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jason, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:19pm

      Re:

      According to the linked article, the problem affects "close to all the 100 million" vehicles sold in the last twenty years. Only the most recent (basically, current) model years of some cars are not affected.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:56am

    Not what you think.

    Hey guys, this is not a back door. More like a passenger side door. Where they can get in, but the consumer is still behind the wheel. So it is a okay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:56am

    Somewhere in a corner office at the FBI James Comey's eyes are welling up with tears of joy that his message on how backdoors are needed is finally coming to fruition

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:57am

    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)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:02pm

    this is why i don't drive hatch-backs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:12pm

    They didn't use that Magic Unicorn Powder (TM) produced by pixies. That's why they failed. But our implementation of the Magic Gate (TM) with a Golden Key (TM) will be flawless. - Law enforcement

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    hegemon13, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:14pm

    Simple, really

    VW just needs to make sure the backdoor key only works for good guys. Duh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:14pm

    It's easier and cheaper to pay lawyers to suppress unwelcome news...

    Than it is to, you know, ACTUALLY DO YOUR JOB. At least until the customer lawsuits start in earnest. Then it's easier and cheaper to pay off politicians to change the laws so that you're not liable...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:30pm

    VW needs to nerd harder

    Sounds like VW needs to nerd harder. We all know you can have back doors/golden keys that can only be used by the good guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glen Foster, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:37pm

    But of course we all know how well suing someone will keep that information secret. I mean no one has ever heard of the Streisand effect, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:41pm

    One good thing!

    One good thing out of this: we now have a real-life car analogy for encryption backdoors!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 12:59pm

    All they need to do is make reverse engineering something illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 1:19pm

      Re:

      With DRM that's close to already being the case. If you have to break or remove the DRM to have access to the core code in order to reverse engineer it then doing so is illegal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 1:54pm

        Re: Re:

        That's why I let the Library of Congress or Archive.org remove the DRM for me. Once that's removed, I'm in the clear for personal use :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 2:15pm

    Nerd Harder

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

    VW did NOT nerd hard enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 12 Aug 2016 @ 3:11pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 3:19pm

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

      "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."

      Ummm, no.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      James T, 12 Aug 2016 @ 4:33pm

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

      Yeah that's a nope, not how this stuff works.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 8:11pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 10:26pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2016 @ 12:11am

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

      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.

      They already do that, as each car comes with a unique key for the purchasers use.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 7:30pm

    When tech fails sometimes you have to KISS

    Eh.. can't you just pull the fuse for the power locks and use the key as was originally intended. Isn't that why most cars have a physical key lock on the driver side door?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 11:27pm

    Shooting the messenger has been an accepted method of dealing with problems for millennia, and is just as effective now as it was on the first application.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jigsy (profile), 13 Aug 2016 @ 2:01pm

    >Volkswagen Created A 'Backdoor' To Basically All Its Cars [...]

    I believe they call it the trunk...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kryxx, 15 Aug 2016 @ 7:54am

    This was planned, they needed a way to remotely flip the VW Beetle back over by popping the trunk!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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