In 2013, when University of Birmingham computer scientist Flavio Garcia and a team of researchers were preparing to reveal a vulnerability that allowed them to start the ignition of millions of Volkswagen cars and drive them off without a key, they were hit with a lawsuit that delayed the publication of their research for two years. But that experience doesn’t seem to have deterred Garcia and his colleagues from probing more of VW’s flaws: Now, a year after that hack was finally publicized, Garcia and a new team of researchers are back with another paper that shows how Volkswagen left not only its ignition vulnerable but the keyless entry system that unlocks the vehicle’s doors, too. And this time, they say, the flaw applies to practically every car Volkswagen has sold since 1995.
Later this week at the Usenix security conference in Austin, a team of researchers from the University of Birmingham and the German engineering firm Kasper & Oswald plan to reveal two distinct vulnerabilities they say affect the keyless entry systems of an estimated nearly 100 million cars. One of the attacks would allow resourceful thieves to wirelessly unlock practically every vehicle the Volkswagen group has sold for the last two decades, including makes like Audi and Škoda. The second attack affects millions more vehicles, including Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, and Peugeot.
Both attacks use a cheap, easily available piece of radio hardware to intercept signals from a victim’s key fob, then employ those signals to clone the key. The attacks, the researchers say, can be performed with a software defined radio connected to a laptop, or in a cheaper and stealthier package, an Arduino board with an attached radio receiver that can be purchased for $40. “The cost of the hardware is small, and the design is trivial,” …