January 30, 2005

In A Battle Of Wits, Motivation Cracks It

You may have heard about the Government's proposal regarding car theft prevention. If you haven't, do read it, because some of the other ideas in the proposal are quite good.

But. Immobilisers are going to become compulsory (cost to you: $300) in cars less than 15 years old, and all new imports. Well, I read this today in the nytimes - it was obviously only a matter of time:

"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.

[...] But the cost of equipment could be brought down to several hundred dollars, Dr. Rubin said, and Adam Stubblefield, one of the Hopkins graduate students, said, "We think the entire attack could be done with a device the size of an iPod."

[...] The Texas Instruments chips are also used in millions of the Speedpass tags that drivers use to buy gasoline at ExxonMobil stations without pulling out a credit card, and the researchers have shown that they can buy gas with a cracked code. A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, Prem Nair, said the company used additional antifraud measures, including restrictions that only allow two gas purchases per day."

And you just know it's only going to get easier. Just like car alarms, where the infra-red codes are yours for the downloading into your PDA.

So it kind of seems a little silly to me to make a system like that nationally-enforced. I mean, hey, you're trying to pit a static system against the pace and persistance of a learning system. If you have a species that can't evolve fighting against one that can, the money's usually on the evolver, eventually.

Posted by phreq at January 30, 2005 09:57 AM | TrackBack

I'm going to comment to myself.

I wonder why people didn't go "What! I'm going to have to spend $300 on the car next year and it's just a compulsory thing? Not on your nelly!"

a) people didn't read the article and don't know what they're in for or;
b) they are rich enough to throw away $300 without comment or;
c) they drive cars older than 15 years so it doesn't apply to them.

I hope it's the rich category.

Posted by: phreq at February 2, 2005 04:48 PM


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