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Volkswagen sued the University of Birmingham because re... Volkswagen sued the University of Birmingham because research by the school could reveal how hackers could hack into the company's vehicles. (Photo courtesy Volkswagen).
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 against it.

In a statement, the University of Birmingham said it would "defer publication" of the paper - which explains how researchers were able to subvert Volkswagen's security system - after an interim injunction issued by England's High Court. It said it 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, saying it was still getting legal advice.

The paper - which a group of academics including Birmingham's Flavio Garcia had planned to publish next month - revealed three ways to bypass a brand of computer chip used by several auto manufacturers to fight vehicle theft.

Often referred to as immobilizers, such chips use a secret algorithm to ensure that a car can only be started with the right key, and they've been a mandatory in all new vehicles sold in Britain over the past 15 years. Last month, AOL Autos detailed how automotive cyber security threats pose increased risk for drivers, from inconveniences like stolen cars to worst-case scenarios like mass accidents plotted by terrorists.

Crucially, the researchers planned to reveal how they were able to reverse-engineer the algorithm - and publish 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 by High Court Justice Colin Birss. 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 that Volkswagen's claim that the paper would be a boon to car thieves was overblown, that they had warned the chip's manufacturer about the vulnerability six months ago, and that a gag order would interfere with their legitimate academic work.

Birss said he sympathized with the researchers' rights, but that he had to weigh them against public safety.

"I recognize the high value of academic free speech, but there is another high value, the security of millions of Volkswagen cars," he said.

It's not yet clear if the case will go to trial. The University of Birmingham declined further comment Tuesday. Volkswagen also declined comment, citing ongoing proceedings.


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  • 38 Comments
      XPRESYRSLF
      • 1 Year Ago
      Nothing is sacred in America ANYMORE the info leakers have taken over. Privacy is going by the waist side. The enemies of America will have no problem attacking or taking over. The whole world has become an anal Payton Place. of insensitive non thinkers enslaved by electronic crp that turns people into useless robots with no self thinking capacity at all.
        Practical Nomad
        • 1 Year Ago
        @XPRESYRSLF
        LOL - going by the "waist" side?
        kng20
        • 1 Year Ago
        @XPRESYRSLF
        You know there used to be such a thing as COMMON SENSE. One would think that at a Univerity there are no MORONS but certainly this proves how stupid the Smart People really are. All this high tec crap is just about useless as far as I can see it. No matter what kind of safeguards they put in then someone will figure out a way to crack it and the proclaim it to the whole world to the Thiefs say "Whow I never thought of that - Got to try that."
      Rollin T Thunder
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm guessing this was VW's way of avoiding a recall!
      Harry Hurt
      • 1 Year Ago
      jsninelives, I have a question for you: You say a monkey on crack could hack into the security system. What happens when the system keeps YOU from operating the car? Can YOU hack into the system?
      • 1 Year Ago
      ok soooo it cannot be used as as an academic paper how ever i believe that it is news worthy so id report to the news agencies
      trader1221
      • 1 Year Ago
      Interesting-- i just bought a new car yesterday and had vw in mind but they don't offer a remote starter and apparently it's a night mare to put one in after market !! WE LIVE IN NEW ENGLAND AND A RE-MOTE STARTER IS A MUST !! So that was a deal killer
      cvnchichay
      • 1 Year Ago
      The wisdom of some academics. It makes you wonder.
      sam54ct
      • 1 Year Ago
      Irresponsible by the university, to put car owners at risk. They should be fined, and people should be fired.
      trb2244
      • 1 Year Ago
      How is this a case of academic free speech? They want to publish the results of an illegal activity (industrial espionage) in support of another illegal activity (hacking) to the detriment of legal owners and the VW company itself. It's theft in support of thieves. The paper is proof of their guilt.
      peteswarr
      • 1 Year Ago
      That is why if you want to keep people from driving off in your car, one needs to install their own secuity devices that only you know about. The new cars are easier to hack than the old ones. The old ones did have a few flaws like at GM where only a few keys actually were needed to start any GM car.
      adika3z
      • 1 Year Ago
      VW vehicle is a own germany autpmaker company in germany, why any different countrys makes VW vehicles for VW germany company
      tomofyork2
      • 6 Months Ago
      More proof Corporations own Judges, as well as Congress and WH residents - in Britian and in the USA.
      porsha993
      • 1 Year Ago
      What "legitimate academic work" is there in figuring out and publishing how to steal cars or make them crash?
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