VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

Arduino + Software Defined Radio = Millions of Vulnerable Volkswagens

As we’ve mentioned previously, the integrity of your vehicle in an era where even your car can have a data connection could be a dubious bet at best. Speaking to these concerns, a soon-to-be published paper (PDF) out of the University of Birmingham in the UK, states that virtually every Volkswagen sold since 1995 can be hacked and unlocked by cloning the vehicle’s keyfob via an Arduino and software defined radio (SDR).

The research team, led by [Flavio Garcia], have described two main vulnerabilities: the first requires combining a cyrptographic key from the vehicle with the signal from the owner’s fob to grant access, while the second takes advantage of the virtually ancient HiTag2 security system that was implemented in the 1990s. The former affects up to 100 million vehicles across the Volkswagen line, while the latter will work on models from Citroen, Peugeot, Opel, Nissan, Alfa Romero, Fiat, Mitsubishi and Ford.

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Custom Engine Parts from a Backyard Foundry

Building a car engine can be a labor of love. Making everything perfect in terms of both performance and appearance is part engineering and part artistry. Setting your creation apart from the crowd is important, and what better way to make it your own than by casting your own parts from old beer cans?

[kingkongslie] has been collecting parts for a dune buggy build, apparently using the classic VW Beetle platform as a starting point. The air-cooled engine of a Bug likes to breathe, so [kingkongslie] decided to sand-cast a custom crankcase breather from aluminum.

Casting solid parts is a neat trick but hardly new; we’ve covered the techniques for casting plastic, pewter, and even soap. The complexity of this project comes from the fact that the part needs to be hollow. [kingkongslie] managed this with a core made of play sand and sodium silicate from radiator stop-leak solution hardened with a shot of carbon dioxide. Sure, it looks like a Rice Krispie treat, but a core like that will stand up to the molten aluminum while becoming weak enough to easily remove later. The whole complex mold was assembled, beer cans melted in an impromptu charcoal and hair-dryer foundry, and after one false start, a shiny new custom part emerged from the sand.

We’ve got to hand it to [kingkongslie] – this was a nice piece of work that resulted in a great looking part. But what we love about this is not only all the cool casting techniques that were demonstrated but also the minimalist approach to everything. We can all do stuff like this, and we probably should.

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Volkswagen Beetle – The Most Hackable Car

If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Of course it helps if your mousetrap is reliable, simple, cheap, and easy to work on. In the car world, look no further than arguably the most successful, and most hackable, car in history: the Volkswagen Type 1, more commonly known as the Beetle. The ways in which this car was modified to suit the needs of a wide range of people over its 65-year-long production run proves that great design, ease of use, and simplicity are the keys to success, regardless of the project or product.

Built by Ferdinand Porsche in 1930’s Germany, the Beetle was designed to be a car for anyone and everyone. Its leader at the time wanted a true “people’s car” (i.e. “Volkswagen”) that was affordable for a German family, could reliably travel at sustained highway speeds on the new German autobahns, and easily be repaired by its owners. The car features an air-cooled engine for simplicity and cost savings: no radiator, water pump, or coolant, plus reduced overall complexity. The engine can be easily removed by disconnecting the fuel line, the throttle cable, and the four bolts that hold it to the transaxle. The entire body is held on to the chassis by eighteen bolts and is also easy to remove by today’s standards. There’s no air conditioning, no power steering, and a rudimentary heater of sorts for the passenger cabin that blows more hot air depending on how fast the engine is running. But possibly the best example of its simplicity is the fact that the windshield washer mechanism is pressurised with air from the over-inflated spare tire, eliminating the need to install another piece of equipment in the car.

It’s not too big of a leap to realize how easily hackable this car is. Even Volkswagen realized this and used the platform to build a number of other vehicles: the Type 2 (otherwise known as the bus, van, hippie van, Kombi, etc.) the eclectic Karmann Ghia, and the Types 3 and 4. Parts of the Type 1 were used to build the Volkswagen 181, commonly referred to as “the Thing”. Ferdinand Porsche also used design elements and other parts of the Type 1 to build the first Porsche, essentially making a souped-up Beetle. The rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout of modern Porsches is a relic of this distant Beetle cousin. But the real magic is what people started doing to the Beetles in their backyards in the ’60s and 70s: turning them into buggies, off road machines, race cars, and hot rods that are still used today.

At some point around this time, a few people realized that the Beetle was uniquely suited to off-road racing. The type of suspension combined with the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout meant that even without four-wheel drive, this car could excel in desert racing. There are still classes in this race for stock Beetles and modified Beetles called Baja Bugs.

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Tech Journos Link Samsung To Volkswagen, Somehow

On Thursday The Guardian published information linking Samsung to the current Volkswagen emissions fiasco. Samsung is accused of installing a ‘defeat device’ on some televisions that uses less energy during official testing conditions than would be found during real-world use.

“The apparent discrepancy between real-world and test performance of the TVs is reminiscent of the VW scandal that originated in the US last week,” wrote [Arthur Nelson] of The Guardian. This report was based on an unpublished lab test by the research group ComplianTV which found discrepancies between real-world and test performance when measuring power consumption. According to ComplianTV, this is due to the ‘motion lighting’ setting included in some Samsung TVs. Samsung vehemently denies this ‘motion lighting’ saying that it is not a method of cheating the consumption tests.

Typical results recognized during testing. Source
Typical results recognized during testing. Source

Not one to let a good controversy go to waste, the BBC reports a Samsung TV will reduce its power draw shortly after the start of the test. A graph of the power draw of a TV – not explicitly a Samsung television – demonstrating this functionality was found in a PDF of a ComplianTV workshop from last year labeled as, “Typical results recognized during testing” with a decrease in power consumption being a recognized behavior when the appropriate test video was found.

This is not the first time ComplianTV tested a Samsung TV equipped with a ‘motion lighting’ setting. Earlier this year, ComplianTV measured the power consumption of the Samsung UE55H8090 television, and found this TV was compliant with energy regulations. Incredibly, all Samsung TVs listed on the ComplianTV database were found to be compliant with the relevant energy directives.

Samsung’s rebuttal to the Guardian article states the ‘motion lighting’ technology is an ‘out of the box’ feature, active in both the lab and at home. Unlike Volkswagen’s ‘defeat device’ for their diesel engines which is only active during emissions testing, the ‘motion lighting’ technology is active whenever it is enabled in the TV’s settings menu.

Anyone in the US who has shopped for a television in the last four years will have noticed cost-per-year estimates for operating the appliance. This is only an issue if the televisions don’t actually meet that advertised benchmark. Until we see a published study we’re raising our eyebrows at The Guardian, easily one of the most trusted journalistic institutions on the planet, and reserving judgement for Samsung.

The DMCA May Have Allowed Volkswagen to Hide ECU Software From the EPA

A lot of questions have been raised by the recent “dieselgate” scandal. Should automakers be held accountable for ethically questionable actions? Are emissions standards in the United States too restrictive? Are we ever going to stop appending “gate” onto every mildly controversial news story? But, for Hackaday readers, the biggest question is most likely “how did they get away with it?” The answer is probably because of a law a lot of hackers are already familiar with: the DMCA.

If you haven’t seen the news about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scheme, we’ll get you caught up quickly. In the United States, EPA emissions testing is done in a very specific and predictable way. Using clever ECU software tricks, Volkswagen was able to essentially “detune” the engines of their diesel vehicles when they were being tested by the EPA. This earned them passing marks, while allowing them to provide a less-restrictive ECU profile for the normal driving that buyers would actually experience.

How could they get away with this simple trick when a brief look at the ECU software would have revealed it? Because, they were able to hide under the umbrella of the DMCA. The ECU software is, of course, not intended to be user-accessible, which means that Volkswagen is allowed to lock it down. That, in turn, means that the EPA isn’t allowed to circumvent that security without violating the DMCA and potentially breaking the law. This kept the EPA’s hands tied, and Volkswagen protected. They were only found out because independent testing (that didn’t follow EPA procedure) revealed vastly different emissions levels.

Is your blood boiling yet? Add this to the stack of reasons why the EFF is trying to end the DRM parts of the DMCA.

[via /.]

Ethics in Engineering: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fiasco

Every so often – and usually not under the best of circumstance – the field of engineering as a whole is presented with a teaching moment. Volkswagen is currently embroiled in a huge scandal involving emissions testing of 11 Million diesel cars sold in recent years. It’s a problem that could cost VW dearly, to the tune of eighteen Billion dollars in the US alone, and will, without a doubt, end the careers of more than a few Volkswagen employees. In terms of automotive scandals, this is bigger than Unsafe at Any Speed. This is a bigger scandal than the Ford Pinto’s proclivity to explode. This is engineering history in the making, and an enormously teachable moment for ethics in engineering.

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