TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Graduate Cryptographers Unlock Code of 'Thiefproof' Car Key

Graduate Cryptographers Unlock Code of 'Thiefproof' Car Key

Monty Solomon (
Sat, 29 Jan 2005 08:38:54 -0500


BALTIMORE - Matthew Green starts his 2005 Ford Escape with a duplicate
key he had made at Lowe's. Nothing unusual about that, except that the
automobile industry has spent millions of dollars to keep him from
being able to do it.

Mr. Green, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, is part of
a team that plans to announce on Jan. 29 that it has cracked the
security behind "immobilizer" systems from Texas Instruments Inc. The
systems reduce car theft, because vehicles will not start unless the
system recognizes a tiny chip in the authorized key. They are used in
millions of Fords, Toyotas and Nissans.

All that would be required to steal a car, the researchers said, is a
moment next to the car owner to extract data from the key, less than
an hour of computing, and a few minutes to break in, feed the key
code to the car and hot-wire it.

An executive with the Texas Instruments division that makes the
systems did not dispute that the Hopkins team had cracked its code,
but said there was much more to stealing a car than that. The
devices, said the executive, Tony Sabetti, "have been fraud-free and
are likely to remain fraud-free."

The implications of the Hopkins finding go beyond stealing cars.

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