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article imageBritish court puts academic paper outlining car hacking on hold

By Leigh Goessl     Aug 2, 2013 in Technology
An academic team has had legal action taken against them by a carmaker after it came to light researchers had found a way to reverse engineer the car's security systems. At this time, the paper outlining their findings has been put on hold.
A team of researchers has delayed the publishing of an academic paper after Volkswagen took legal action against them and the Court ruled in the carmaker's favor.
Researchers Flavio Garcia, of University of Birmingham, in collaboration with Baris Ege and Roel Verdult of Radboud University in the Netherlands, penned a paper on cryptography which outlined how they were able to subvert Volkswagen's security system, according to USA Today.
Reportedly, researchers found three ways to bypass a security-related computer chip, often referred to as an immobilizer. The carmaker argued if the researchers published the formula that outlined how they were able to reverse-engineer an algorithm that bypassed the chip, this would be very damaging and show car thieves the way to stealing millions of cars.
Researchers disagree, stating their study is based on public information.
"The paper reveals inherent weaknesses, on the basis of mathematical calculations, and is based on an analysis of publicly available information. The publication in no way describes how to easily steal a car, as additional and different information is needed for this to be possible," researchers said, according to a press release issued by Radboud University.
Volkswagen went to court and England's High Court subsequently issued an interim injunction.
High Court Justice Colin Birss explained while making his decision he had to weigh out free speech vs. 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, reported USA Today.
Car brands affected are high-end models such as Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini. However, other lower-end brands could also be affected as well.
The University of Birmingham said it was "disappointed" with the Court's decision.
"The University of Birmingham is disappointed with the judgment which did not uphold the defense of academic freedom and public interest, but respects the decision. It has decided to defer publication of the academic paper in any form while additional technical and legal advice is obtained given the continuing litigation. The University is therefore unable to comment further at this stage," a university press release said (courtesy IEEE Spectrum).
The paper was supposed to be presented next month at the Usenix Security Symposium.
The researchers said they'd informed Volkswagen nine months ago, reported The Guardian. The company said they were not aware of the publication until May 2013.
Do you think this decision was just? Should the researchers be permitted to publish their findings?
More about Volkswagen, immobilizer, Cars, Hacking, Security
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