Here Is Research Showing How Easy It Is to Steal Cars

As per the Insurance Information Institute (III), there were nearly 750,000 vehicles stolen in the U.S. alone in 2018, amounting to $6 billion in losses. And that happened despite all the advancements made in computerized safety systems.
Tesla Model S 4 photos
Tesla Model STesla Model STesla Model S
One of the key pieces of technology that is preventing car theft on a larger scale today is the immobilizer. Using a cryptographic authentication from a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) transponder included in the car key, it is capable of stopping others from starting cars through whatever means. In some places, like several countries in Europe, it is a mandatory feature of cars sold since 1998.

One of the biggest suppliers of such systems is Texas Instruments. Its chips, with various applications, are used by some 100,000 customers worldwide, making the company both a reliable source and a vulnerability.

And least that is what a paper published earlier this year by a team from the School of Computer Science from University of Birmingham, UK points out.

One of the most wide-spread Texas Instruments immobilizer is presently the Digital Signal Transponder 80, or DST80. It is deployed on a number of nameplates from carmakers like Toyota, Kia, Hyundai and Tesla. And, the team says, it is seriously flawed.

Given enough wit and expertise, a determined car thief could steal one of the vehicles fitted with the DST80 in a matter of minutes, the study shows. It is as easy as voltage glitching the firmware protection and reverse engineering key diversification schemes to get to the actual cipher. With the proper tools, that can apparently be done in a matter of seconds.

The team says they tested several attack types on the DST80 (they are detailed here, for the tech savvy among you) on cars made by Toyota (2008-2015 vehicles), Kia (2011-2017), Hyundai (2008-2016), and on a Tesla Model S.

In the case of the electric car, the researchers were able to both recover the DST80 key, and hit the key fob with Denial-Of-Service attacks that rendered it useless.

The team says it informed both the carmakers involved and Texas Instruments of the issue some time ago, before the paper was published. It’s not clear how the others reacted, but Tesla did roll out a fix in one of over-the-air updates in August 2019.


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories