Germany's Interior Minister Wants Backdoors In Cars, Digital Devices

Thomas de Maizièr

According to a new report from German newspaper Redaktions Netzwerk Deutschland (RND), Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizièr, has written a draft proposal in which he would like German cars, as well as other digital devices being sold in Germany, to grant police backdoor access. The minister is expected to present the proposal at next week’s Ministry of Interior conference.

Giving Police More Surveillance Powers

According to the RND report, the German minister would like intelligence agencies and police to gain “exclusive” access to cars, as well as digital devices such as computers, mobile devices, kitchen appliances, and smart TVs. The “back door” access would, in essence, allow the government to bypass the security protections some of these devices have. The police have been complaining that sometimes they can’t install intercept equipment on some cars because their security systems are “too good.”

Maizièr would also like cars and digital devices to have a “kill switch” the government can use at will to shut down certain devices, allegedly to stop cybercrime.

Compromising Security Of Digital Devices

The topic of compromising the security of digital devices in order to give governments easier access to their targets’ data has already been discussed quite a bit in recent years, as the U.S. and UK governments have been ramping up their attacks on encryption and proposed their own backdoors.

Many security experts have come out against such plans because they would undermine the security of digital devices, just as the weak encryption promoted by the U.S. government in the '90s has been hurting browser security to this day.

Additionally, backdoors and weak encryption would also undermine the trust people have in these devices, which could lead to fewer sales of the compromised products around the world, similarly to how American companies lost billions of dollars in potential sales when Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA’s surveillance came out.

Undermining Trust In Connected And Self-Driving Cars

All of that pales in comparison to undermining trust in cars (German cars, in this case), especially the cars with autonomous driving features that we’re going to see in the next few years. As if it wasn’t bad enough that car manufacturers weren’t taking digital security all that seriously with both connected cars and self-driving cars, now the German Interior Minister is proposing that all such cars should come with built-in security vulnerabilities in the future.

Calling these vulnerabilities “exclusive access” won’t change the fact that backdoors never remain exclusive for long -- especially when the malicious actors already know a backdoor is in there and that they just have to find it.

Plus, if Germany gets its “exclusive access” to connected cars and robocars, chances are high that UK, Russia, the U.S., Australia, China, and many other countries will soon demand that the carmakers give them the same “exclusive access,” too, just like they've been doing with data requests. The more governments and government employees get such access, the more likely it will be that someone will mess up somewhere.

Finally, if German cars (Mercedez-Benz, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Opel, Porsche, etc) start including backdoors, and then these backdoors are inevitably exploited, those car brands are going to see an immediate damage to their reputations around the world. The exploits could be used not just by car thieves, but also to put people’s lives in danger on the road. As the German economy relies so much on its car industry, it could see a significant negative impact as well.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • therealduckofdeath
    Well, it has been several months since the last global IT disaster caused by forgotten backdoors, so why the heck not? I mean, what the chance it happens again (again, again, again, again)
  • hannibal
    One good example where a person does not know anything about computers and back doors...
    Hopefully someone in Germany explains him why this is so bad idea.
  • derekullo
    Why do the police need access to my toaster?

    Can I blame the police when my toast is burnt?
  • vasras
    What a twat. He should study up on tech and risks with backdoors.
    Just goes to show that even in Germany, politicians are morons.
  • clonazepam
    A car with software backdoors would need software support for the entire lifetime of the vehicle. What's the expiration date on a new car? Somehow I don't believe in car companies' ability to secure or support the features properly. Like touched on in the article, they automatically have a bullseye on them as well.
  • berezini.2013
    Germany will crash and burn. i see a lot of hackers moving to germany just to take advantage of all the backdoors! They will teach germany doing it doggie style!
  • kuhndj67
    There will be no digital backdoor in any car I ever let drive me... stupidest... idea... ever.
  • JonDol
    Did he smoke something then started to explore "what if..." ideas ?
  • mwryder55
    This would also allow them to watch any person at any time without any warrants. Much like the LG vacuumr with a camera on it that was accessible on the web.
    And what is to stop another Snowden or Manning releasing the access information on the web either to show the abuses being used with them or for profit?
  • Tanyac
    News at 6: German police have traced the latest terror attack in Munich to a 600L refrigerator that notified it's owner that they were low on milk. The owner has been detained without charges and denied rights to legal representation....