Paper on Volkswagen Anti-Theft Chip Vulnerability Held
A British university is delaying the release of an academic paper on how the anti-theft systems of millions of Volkswagen vehicles are at risk of being hacked after the German carmaker took legal action, The Associated Press reports.
In a statement, the University of Birmingham says it would “defer publication” of the paper after an interim injunction by England’s High Court. The statement adds that the university was “disappointed with the judgment which did not uphold the defense of academic freedom and public interest, but respects the decision.”
The university did not elaborate on how long the paper would be held.
The paper revealed three ways to bypass a brand of computer chip used by several auto manufacturers to fight vehicle theft. These chips, often referred to as immobilizers, use a secret algorithm to ensure that a car can only be started with the right key, and they are mandatory in all new vehicles sold in Britain over the past 15 years, the article reports.
The researchers planned to reveal how they were able to reverse-engineer the algorithm and public a copy of it in their paper. Volkswagen said that publishing the formula would be “highly damaging” and “facilitate theft of cars,” according to a ruling handed down last month. The judge said that millions of Volkswagen vehicles were issued with the chip, including high-end cars such as Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis.
The researchers countered the argument, saying that the paper’s supposed “boon to car thieves was overblown,” AP reports. The researchers also claim to have warned the chip’s manufacturer about the vulnerability six months ago, and a gag order would interfere with their legitimate academic work. The judge said he sympathized with the researchers’ rights, but that he had to weigh them against public safety.