Court rules against publication of luxury car security weaknesses

There is a special respect for publishing academic research in the world of study, which is that thing we students do between pub crawls and juggling overdrafts and bills.

In the past it's tended to be governments that feel ill at ease with such things, but big business have now moved into this dubious sphere. Recently car manufacturer Volkswagen, who broadcast their 'Get in. Get happy.' advertisement at this years Super Bowl, thought a planned academic paper on security weaknesses in high end cars, such as Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Porsches would help car thieves get in, and get very happy as they drove away. 

Result: a court case to prevent the publication of academic research into said security weaknesses. In court it was claimed this information was on the internet since 2009. Perhaps Volkwagen knows more about luxury end car thieves than I do, and happens to know that they avidly read academic journals for cryptology breakthroughs.

Birmingham universities cryptography expert Flavio Garcia's paper on security concerns with these high end luxury cars printed codes details, which led the judge to rule that 'car crime would be facilitated'.

Lets stress the aim of the paper, which was to publish academic research in a respected academic journal and as a result of this, the public might also know something that car thieves and, we can only hope, car companies are well aware of: a security weakness.

A University of Birmingham spokesperson said: 'The University of Birmingham is disappointed with the judgement 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.'

Flavio Garcia, the cryptologist concerned, has published a quote on his web page, saying: “Whoever thinks his problem can be solved using cryptography, doesn't understand his problem and doesn't understand cryptography” (Roger Needham & Butler Lampson)

You can't help but think that someone should be listening to this guy.

Words by Mairi Harris