Academic banned from publishing car-hacking paper

Volkswagen asked Garcia and his team to publish an amended version of the paper without the secret codes

A computer scientist at a UK university has been banned from publishing an academic paper that reveals the codes used to start luxury cars.

Flavio Garcia from the University of Birmingham received an injunction from the UK high court after he managed to identify the unique algorithm that cars use to verify the identity of the ignition key, The Guardian reported.

German car manufacturer Volkswagen appealed for the injunction when it realised that Garcia and two other cryptography experts from a Dutch university had figured out how to crack the security system on several luxury car brands under its ownership, including Porsche, Lamborghini or Audi.

Volkswagen wants the research to remain unpublished because it fears that it could "allow someone, especially a sophisticated criminal gang with the right tools, to break the security and steal a car".

The cars are protected by an algorithm that works out the codes that are sent between the key and the car known as the Megamos Crypto system.

The scientists were planning to publish their paper - Dismantling Megamos Crypto: Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobiliser - at the Usenix Security Symposium in Washington DC next month before the court imposed an interim injunction.

Volkswagen asked Garcia and his team to publish an amended version of the paper without the secret codes but the scientists declined, claiming that the public has a right to see holes in the security system it relies on and insisting that this wasn't an attempt to give criminals a hand in stealing cars.

Garcia and his colleagues from the Stichting Katholieke Universiteit, Baris Ege and Roel Verdult, said they were "responsible, legitimate academics doing responsible, legitimate academic work".

Mr Justice Birss said he recognised the right for academics to publish their work but it would mean, "that car crime will be facilitated".

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