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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.