Fears have arisen surrounding the risk of electronic hacking of thousands of cars following the release of computer scientists' research.

High-end marques including Porsches and Maseratis could fall victim of thieves who are attempting to steal vehicles through a weakness in the Megamos Crypto system, a piece of technology used by big manufacturers such as Audi, Fiat and Volkswagen.

This system blocks a car engine from being started without the use of a keyfob that contains the correct radio frequency identification chip.

Now though, after being refrained from public release for two years by a court injunction won by Volkswagen as it was felt it would boost the chances of vehicle theft, evidence shows that the safeguard is failing.

Researchers at University of Birmingham and Radbound University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, were able to intercept signals sent to and from the chip and car.

By listening in they were able to use a process of reverse engineering that consists of using a commercially available computer programmer in order to reveal the secret codes used to the start the car.

The revelation has caused serious concern among the security division, leading many experts confounded in the search for an answer.

"This is a serious flaw and it's not very easy to quickly correct," Tim Watson, Director of Cyber Security at the University of Warwick, told Bloomberg.

"It isn't a theoretical weakness, it's an actual one and it doesn't cost theoretical dollars to fix, it costs actual dollars.

Volkswagen say leaking this information to the public would "allow someone, especially a sophisticated criminal gang with the right tools, to break the security and steal a car".

The researchers state that their paper, titled "Dismantling Megamos Crypto: Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobiliser", developed following the rising numbers of "keyless car theft" that left the police baffled.

Around 6000 vehicles were stolen without keys last year, according to the Metropolitan Police.

Car owners have been recommended by the researchers to change their vehicle's chip system to one that includes a random number generator making it much harder to use intercepted transmissions to break the codes.

Share this post