It has not even been a year since the US Environmental Protection Agency called out Volkswagen (VW) for cheating pollution norms by using engine control units (ECUs) in cars, and the company might be ready to face another PR disaster. Researchers from the University of Birmingham in their report ‘Lock it and still lose it’ have revealed that people who have purchased a VW group car after 1995 (close to 100 million vehicles) might find that their cars are vulnerable to key-clone attacks.
According to the research, a hacker can infiltrate the keyless entry of a car along with its ignition system to get full access to it. These attacks can be carried out using a cheap and easily available radio interceptor that can access the information of a car owner’s key fob, which can then be cloned. A key fob works like a security token, with an in-built authentication mechanism and lets you wireless-ly lock or unlock your car. This vulnerability is not only limited to VW built cars, but also cars built by the company’s subsidiaries like Audi, Seat and Skoda.
The cost of the hardware required for hacking is $40, and its design – trivial. The researchers were also able to find a mechanism using reverse engineering, which allowed them to pull out a single cryptographic key value from inside the vehicle’s internal network. This key value is shared among million of Volkswagen vehicles across the globe. The researchers have not revealed the components that are required to carry this out, in order to avoid giving tips to potential hackers.
The second technique that can be used is by using a cryptographic scheme called HiTag2, which is very old, but is still installed on millions of vehicles. This technique uses a similar method of intercepting key fob codes, and would intercept eight of the codes from the key. To speed this process, the hacker could jam the driver’s key fob repeatedly, allowing the hacker to record multiple codes in a single go.
According to Wired, Volkswagen did not comment on these vulnerabilities, but the researchers claim that VW has acknowledged the vulnerabilities.