The £30 hack which could unlock "millions" of Volkswagen cars

Jessica Morris
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All hackers would need is a is a homemade radio costing as little as £30 (Source: Getty)

Researchers have more bad news for embattled Volkswagen.

The car marker, which found itself at the centre of a global emissions scandal last year, is the subject of an academic paper which says a large number of its vehicles sold since 1995 can be easily unlocked by hackers.

And all hackers need to unlock a Volkswagen car — which includes those belonging to the Audi, Seat and Skoda brands — is a homemade radio costing as little as £30. This would allow them to listen into and replicate coded signals given off by a driver's key.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Volkswagen emissions scandal

Volkswagen said it's aware of the issue, and is working with the researchers.

The paper by wonks from the University of Birmingham and German security firm Kasper & Oswald found that the interception was possible through reverse-engineering part of Volkswagen's network to obtain a master key. This could be used with the unique signal given off by an key fob to unlock its car.

It said: "Owners of affected vehicles should be aware that unlocking the doors of their car is much simpler than commonly assumed today."

"The necessary equipment ... are widely available at low cost."

"The attacks are hence highly scalable and could be potentially carried out by an unskilled adversary."

"Since they are executed solely via the wireless interface, with at least the range of the original removed control and leave no physical traces, they pose a severe threat in practice."

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At the same time, another expert has voiced doubts over criminals' ability to reproduce the hack.

Security expert Ken Munro at Pen Test Partners, told the BBC that key components of what hackers would need to carry out an attack had been left out.

"You'd need some academic-level knowledge of cryptography to be able to do this," he said.

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