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DRM Open Source Software Your Rights Online

How the Car Industry Has Hidden Its Software Behind the DMCA 126

Lucas123 writes: The DCMA has allowed carmakers to keep third parties from looking at the code in their electronic control modules. The effect has been that independent researchers are wary of probing vehicle code, which may have lead companies like Volkswagen to get away with cheating emissions tests far longer than necessary. In a July letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, the Environmental Protection Agency expressed its own concern of the protection provided by the DMCA to carmakers, saying it's "difficult for anyone other than the vehicle manufacturer to obtain access to the software." Kit Walsh, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the legal uncertainly created by the DMCA "makes it easier for manufacturers to conceal intentional wrongdoing. The EFF has petitioned the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption to the DMCA for embedded vehicle code so that independent research can be performed on electronic control modules (ECMs), which run a myriad of systems, including emissions. Eben Moglen was right.
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How the Car Industry Has Hidden Its Software Behind the DMCA

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:05PM (#50601541)

    Eben Moglen is always right. Now take some time and watch some of his lectures on internet freedom, privacy and open source software

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:08PM (#50601559)

    It may push even Congress to allow us access to our own cars' ECM and diagnostic systems.

    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:34PM (#50601693)
      Not going to happen. Honda wouldn't even let me replace the battery in my hybrid. That's right, they refuse to sell you a new hybrid battery, you can only get one by having the Honda dealer install it! They didn't even listen to my argument that I had a degree in Electronics Engineering and had worked as an Electronics technician, so I probably understood the fact that batteries are dangerous.
      • I heard that car batteries for hybrid/electronic vehicles could be very high voltage. So car companies go the better-safe-than-sorry route. They can't afford someone got over-confident and killed themselves.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        If you were trying to replace the entire expensive battery, then you were probably doing it wrong. The best thing to do is crack open the battery and replace the cells that are bad. In my brother's Prius, he only needed to replace about 10% of the cells. Also, you don't have to buy any proprietary parts. Honda parts are crazy overpriced.

      • For every person like you who may be qualified to do the job safely, there are probably many dozens that would still attempt this themselves simply for the cost savings, and risk injuring / electrocuting themselves, after which their families would sue the bejezus out of Honda.

        While there certainly may be a profit motive here, I wouldn't discount a fear of lawsuits.

        • by adolf ( 21054 ) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Saturday September 26, 2015 @01:07AM (#50602699) Journal

          So let me get this straight: Because big batteries are dangerous, they shant be sold to mere mortals.

          But a mere mortal can go up to the counter and order a set of brake pads, lines, and calipers. A mere mortal can buy a replacement seatbelt. A mere mortal can buy a set of ball joints, suspension bushings, tie rods, and/or control arms.

          A bad installation of any of things things can result in death.

          What makes batteries so special?

          (And before anyone says something about "potential energy," let me remind you that in most states folks are also allowed to pump their own gasoline into their own cars.)

          (And nevermind the fact that big/dangerous batteries are widely available ell over the place. Just not, apparently, at the Honda parts counter.)

          • What makes batteries so special?

            (And before anyone says something about "potential energy," let me remind you that in most states folks are also allowed to pump their own gasoline into their own cars.)

            Not to mention that an automobile is already a device for turning potential energy (in fuel, or a battery) in to kinetic energy which could kill someone. And they kill a whole lot of someones every year. How many people are killed by screwing with their hybrid battery?

            • by adolf ( 21054 )

              I have no citation, but I'll wager on the following: More people are killed working under their Hondas, than are killed by screwing with the battery in their Hondas.

              "Deadly voltage" is pretty far down on the flow-chart of ways to get fucked-up working on a car -- even if the flowchart only includes hybrids.

          • Cars have a variety of sensors to warn you when you breaks don't work, emergency breaks, and improperly installed breaks usually just screw up your rotors, not prevent the car from stopping. A seat belt is hard to install wrong, and you're not going to hurt yourself installing it unless you're really dumb. And I suppose Honda might have cut corners somewhere on safety to get weight down or some such and be afraid of lawsuits.

            But yeah, you're probably right and it's bullshit.
            • by adolf ( 21054 )

              You may have sensors to warn you that a brake (not "break") pad is thin. Brake rotors themselves can break (I'd not be surprised if Honda offers OEM cross-drilled rotors), which is an ugly situation. Rubber brake lines left uninspected for long periods can fail suddenly -- including the aftermarket rubber lines that are wrapped in stainless steel mesh. You may also have sensors that tell you that the brake fluid level is low.

              My own car has all of these, though it only watches for thin pads on one wheel p

      • They didn't even listen to my argument that I had a degree in Electronics Engineering and had worked as an Electronics technician, so I probably understood the fact that batteries are dangerous.

        Then as an engineer and a technician you should be well aware that you pretty much can't do any specific work without certification for that piece of work. Understanding and doing are not the same thing, just like being an engineer doesn't mean you can go and wire up your own house in much of the world.

        Mind you I agree that it's licensing gone mad, but people aren't trusted to kill themselves anymore without transferring liability onto someone else, and as such we don't get to play with toys anymore.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          After I designed my place, including the various sub-drawings thanks, I actually helped the various contractors build my house. I even helped the electricians. In my area you can fun your own initial wiring but it has to be inspected before they'll hook you up to the mains. I did not help the roofers. That looked like work and it was August.

          As for my drafting work, that was all checked by a real licensed architect. I was told that I did, "much better than expected." I suspect they say that to everyone but t

      • The good news is, depending on the year, you can get a better aftermarket battery than the NOS crap Honda is selling anyway.

        Call Eli over at Bumblebee Batteries, he'll sell you a battery for self-install no problems. Heck, even Dorman sells new hybrid batteries now.

        http://bumblebeebatteries.com/... [bumblebeebatteries.com]

        Bought a replacement from them for my 2004 HCH ~3 years ago, works like a champ.

        Sam

    • Yes, the Volkswagen affair starkly highlights the fact that data from consumer products is insufficiently protected, leaving a window of vulnerability.

      Protecting e.g. the code of the motor management system is a good first step. Leaving it at that however is sloppy work, as evidenced by the Volkswagen affair.

      A more comprehensive protection would entail protecting the actual data with copyright safeguards too. Especially emission data. This data is, after all, proprietary and commercially sensitive data.

  • by sims 2 ( 994794 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:11PM (#50601573)

    Wouldn't it be nice to be able to make your own ecm with a arduino or raspberry pi? Last one I had to replace was $700.
    That kind of money will buy a lot of add on boards.

    • Re:Open source ECM? (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:30PM (#50601673)

      Wouldn't it be nice to be able to make your own ecm with a arduino or raspberry pi? Last one I had to replace was $700.

      That would be great. Until it broke after about two miles.

      Cars are generally considered to one of the toughest environments for electronics. For example, there's so much electrical noise that you really, really, really don't want to be using RAM without error correction.

      • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

        It takes multiple years to type-approve an ECM for a single application. That's on top of the years-to-decades of development on the engine itself.

        But if you think you can hack together one with a consumer grade ARM, go right ahead.

        • While I agree it is not feasible to home-brew an internal combustion ECM for a modern automobile, you should be advised that the full range of "grades" of parts are available to consumers. There is no special access for auto grade or military grade parts, it is just a different temperature/vibration/noise spec. There is no difficulty at all in choosing industrial controller chips and components. Getting even vaguely close to the needed timing adjustments based on sensor readings would be a major project tho

          • Re:Open source ECM? (Score:5, Informative)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday September 26, 2015 @06:46AM (#50603163) Homepage Journal

            While I agree it is not feasible to home-brew an internal combustion ECM for a modern automobile,

            You guys are all sitting around arguing if it can be done, when it has already been done [megasquirt.info]. Megasquirt is a homebrewed ECU which can be twiddled in build for different injector drivers etc. You can use it as a replacement PCM for tuning or you can use it for adding EFI to a carbureted vehicle.

            You guys think that ECMs are rocket surgery or something, but they frankly are not. Yes, there's a lot of noise underhood, but the ECM is located in a metal box. Yes, there's a lot of vibration in a car, but the metal box of the ECM is normally shock-mounted. And you think it's hard to do better than the real guys, but they screw it up too, and they don't try particularly hard.

            Remember, companies were throwing together working ECMs back in the eighties out of discrete components and one dinky microcontroller. Hitachi used a 3 MHz 6800-series chip in the computers that ran the Impreza, 240SX and some of its other contemporaries.

            • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

              And you think it's hard to do better than the real guys, but they screw it up too, and they don't try particularly hard.

              Remember, companies were throwing together working ECMs back in the eighties out of discrete components and one dinky microcontroller. Hitachi used a 3 MHz 6800-series chip in the computers that ran the Impreza, 240SX and some of its other contemporaries.

              They do screw up sometimes, that's why there are years of testing done.

              It's not the parts, or even necessarily the code. It's the process and experience. You need something that works reliably with precision AND accuracy for the life of the engine (ideally more than ten years) under every possible condition.

            • When people say something complicated "isn't feasible for home-brew," they're not saying it is rocket surgery or brain science.

              Heck, a great example would be rocket science, something people absolutely do at home, using kits, but doing it entirely from scratch "isn't feasible for home-brew." You need to be some sort of smarty-pants who can understand the relevant details of the underlying technology, and take on the risk associated with doing it.

              In the case of an auto ECM, it isn't just the owner's risk tha

              • Few people even want to replace them, because they really do work well, and it is difficult to get parts to even fit unless the part is made as a replacement, in which case it already has sensors compatible with the original.

                It is not difficult to get parts to fit. You just splice the harness. There's only a few different types of sensors ever used, and they all fall into a small handful of resistance or voltage ranges, so supporting them is trivial.

                It is not normal to add entirely new engine functionality onto an existing engine. What they want, and do, is usually to tweak the constants to reduce emissions control. That is way over 99% of the demand for alterations.

                Nearly nobody is replacing their PCM to reduce emissions control, because that is expensive. Yet, there are still quite a number of companies making aftermarket PCMs. That is because people are adding entirely new engine functionality onto their engine, in many cases; for example, a

                • When I was talking about getting parts to fit, I'm talking about mechanical parts. These are mechanical engines, with an electronic controller. The controller doesn't need to have new code to replace existing functionality; for that you fiddle the constants. New mechanical parts that would need new controller code don't fit without doing real engineering. In practice it is rarely done.

                  And the reason that nobody is replacing their "PCM" for emissions is that vehicles don't generally have a separate PCM and E

                  • And the reason that nobody is replacing their "PCM" for emissions is that vehicles don't generally have a separate PCM and ECU, they have an ECU and the PCM is only discussed separately because that functionality has a separate harness going into the ECU.

                    No. PCM is legally mandated terminology used in the OBD-II specification, so the use of that term is commonly associated with OBD-II vehicles. Before that the dominant term for the same thing was ECU. Even before OBD-II, it was not unheard of for the ECU and other modules (e.g. the TCU/TCM, which is just different names for the same thing as well) to communicate. For example, the 1989 240SX and 1993 Impreza shared an automatic transmission, ECU, and TCU which would perform automatic rev-matching downshifts.

    • Re:Open source ECM? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:45PM (#50601749)

      Here you go:
      http://rusefi.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why should "researchers" get to view the code? Here in Silicon Valley I cannot think of any instances where any outsiders routinely get access to a company's code.
    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:26PM (#50601655)
      Because they are not selling software, and having the emissions control firmware for a Volkswagen doesn't really help anyone insane enough to try to create their own Volkswagen. Whereas with most software, once you've got the code, that's all you need to recreate your competitor's product.
      • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @02:32AM (#50602843) Homepage

        While I do think the code should be available for third-party review for safety reasons, I want to disagree with the claim that they don't sell software. They do not sell the hardware without the software, and the products always have the software. To put it another way, they distribute software, and the only way to receive it is to buy the controller with it. Saying they're not selling the software makes as little sense as saying they're not selling the hardware, they just give it away free when they sell the software. But no, they sell the software and hardware together.

        The funny part of this whole story is that the linked PDF letter from EPA counsels against a DMCA exception for automobile enthusiasts specifically because they're concerned the main purpose it would be used for would be to reduce emission controls. And they're probably right about that point. The speculation here that this VW cheating will cause things to open up is exactly backwards. It will just create pressure to have the testing and validation process include a code review. But that won't actually happen, because road tests already solves the whole problem more cheaply.

        • While you're technically correct, the software in a car doesn't really give a competitive advantage because it's all broadly the same. In fact, mostly the cars have the same PCMs; you'll find the same Bosch PCMs used between Audis and Jaguars and BMWs, just as you find the same ZF transmission in Audis and Jaguars and BMWs (and with no dipstick in any of these applications, the bastards.) For example, my 1997 A8Q has a Bosch ME7.1 PCM which was literally also used in Jags and BMWs. And that PCM is broadly t

          • As a software guy I generally agree, but the idea that the software code and the configuration code are different is rather hair-splitting here, though obvious and important from system design and implementation perspectives.

            That the code doesn't change just means that the formulas needed to manage that type of machine don't change from model to model. But the constants do. While it is normal and good for a software guy to think about data and code as being different, in this case it really doesn't matter.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:32PM (#50601683)

      Why should "researchers" get to view the code? Here in Silicon Valley I cannot think of any instances where any outsiders routinely get access to a company's code.

      Because people die when the programmers screw up.

      Read the court documents on Toyota's ECU software sometime, to see what 'researchers' found when they were allowed to look at it.

      • Because people die when the programmers screw up.

        Read the court documents on Toyota's ECU software sometime, to see what 'researchers' found when they were allowed to look at it.

        Oh please. Because a few people died in a car? I could think of countless far more critical applications such as industrial safety systems where there's no open source code review. Much the same could be said for an operating system too.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You are probably trying to make some point but you are failing miserably at it.

        • by Euler ( 31942 )

          I'd like to make sure there is professionalism and safety is a priority in BOTH places. Code review is just one aspect.
          Industry is probably further ahead than you imagine, look up SIL.

          Open-source just isn't going to happen in auto or industry. The only people who will spend time looking at it will be the competition (who would love to see your product fail), or students who have spare time but no frame of reference. Neither is a comprehensive means of reviewing code in the proper context.

          An independent (

      • Read the court documents on Toyota's ECU software sometime, to see what 'researchers' found when they were allowed to look at it.

        Summary:
        Mirroring (where key data is written to redundant variables) was not always done. This gains extra significance in light of
        Stack overflow. Toyota claimed only 41% of the allocated stack space was being used. Barr's investigation showed that 94% was closer to the truth. On top of that, stack-killing, MISRA-C rule-violating recursion was found in the code, and the CPU doesn't incorporate memory protection to guard against stack overflow.
        Two key items were not mirrored: The RTOS' critical internal dat

  • Spelling pet peeve (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:15PM (#50601597)

    may have lead companies

    The past tense of "lead" is "led".

    Captcha: mislead

    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:29PM (#50601669)
      Oh, so it's "Led Zeppelin" because nobody's leading them anymore? Now I understand...
    • Maybe "lead companies like Volkswagen" is a reference to their stock prices.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I'm going to wait for it to bottom out and just as it starts to rise again, I'm going to buy a whole shit ton of shares. Literally, thousands. So, do me a favor, keep complaining about VW anywhere and everywhere. This is a huge gamble on my part but I have every reason to believe they'll weather this storm and come back to their regular price.

        This, folks, is why I actually *do* base my investing strategy on the comments made on sites like this. It has been lucrative. Technically, I have more money now than

    • by nanter ( 613346 )
      If you're going to be a grammar nazi, you should at least have a good command of grammar.

      It's not the "past tense." It's the present perfect, and 'led' is the past participle.
  • by reg ( 5428 ) <reg@freebsd.org> on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:24PM (#50601637) Homepage

    Professional engineers, not self proclaimed ones. Ones that sign on the dotted line taking personal responsibility for the code they write. With self driving cars, robots, drones, etc. we need to be able to hold coders responsible, the same way we hold held civil and mechanical engineers responsible.

    • While I agree that there needs to be that professionalism it will be hard to achieve. With the engineering practices (civil, mechanical, aerospace, etc) you can't easily substitute another person to do the work. A software engineer can be easily replace by someone who did a computer science degree or even someone who was self taught (there are some good self taught people out there just like there are some bad software engineers). In many positions the background is interchangeable.

      Plus there are laws an

      • Does the person that writes apps for mobile phones which utilizes GPS have to find an engineer to sign off on the project in order to sell it?

        You say all of this because you don't understand the certification requirements for many professional engineers. I am an electrical engineer but if someone asked me to sign off the design of a high-voltage substation and I signed I could be stripped from my registration. We define areas of competence. They are loosely defined but it basically says that an engineer is not able to sign of on something he doesn't truly understand and doing so opens him up to not only direct litigation but stripping of his righ

        • Morning coffee hasn't kicked in, but I just re-read what you said. Ignore me and mod me to oblivion. You're right in some cases there's no harm or impact so there should be no need to sign off on something. In many ways that's consistent with the other industries though. Technically I can't type a V=IR equation into a calculator without potentially being liable if I'm not a registered engineer or working directly under one. In practice it doesn't work that way.

          Typically it works more like certain profession

    • Ones that sign on the dotted line taking personal responsibility for the code they write. With self driving cars, robots, drones, etc. we need to be able to hold coders responsible, the same way we hold held civil and mechanical engineers responsible.

      ...so there is effective pushback when the company says "make X happy for Y dollars or you're fired", if it can't be made safely. No doubt that would inspired umbrage from some of the resident Randians on Slashdot, but....go fuck yourselves, guys. Seriously.

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      Ones that sign on the dotted line taking personal responsibility for the code they write.

      LOL, and what percent of VW's $14 billion annual profit do these engineers receive? Nothing. I just love how management and the company take credit for the excellent work of their underlings. But when the product fails, it's the engineer's head on the guillotine block.

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:38PM (#50601719)

    A myriad of consumer goods now depend on code. And if that code has problems there may be safety, environmental or cost consequences. I'm talking about all kinds of computer and networking devices of course, but also phones, industrial control systems, medical devices, smart meters, aircraft, ships and household appliances.

    If the code cannot be scrutinized, there is no way to check its quality. Plus, as others have noted, no way to maintain or improve it. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are some routers (FCC is trying to plug that), and PCs (Microsoft is trying to plug that). But these exceptions entail a complete replacement, as the original code is secret.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Please define mobility scooters as vehicles also :///

    20 unique controllers that all do exactly the same thing :(

  • An auto drive messes up and kills someone and due to EULA / DMCA / Etc no logs can be used in court / you can't have your own lab look at them.

    So the owner / driver goes to prison for some years learns how be good a real crime and when they get out after a run of mc jobs they set out get revenge on google / the court system and us gov.

  • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @12:29AM (#50602637)

    Whenever the topic of allowing government or public access to review source code comes up (like with, oh, say, voting machines) I always think of these guys:
    http://gaming.nv.gov/index.asp... [nv.gov]
    and I realize that not of this is as important as gambling (and the collection of taxes thereon).

    At least if you judge by how seriously we take access to the code. Just try to deploy a slot machine in Reno without letting someone at the Nevada State Gaming Control Board review your code. Won't happen.

  • Government oversight is not "third party". Compliance verification of manufacturer's emissions performance should extend to software design validation. Why doesn't it? It's not like it's difficult.

  • Here's an idea: pass a law saying that every car sold must include access to the source code for all the software in the car, and the ability to replace the pre-installed binaries (preventing tivoization).
  • Back to reality -- innocent until proven guilty.

    California is the only state with it's own EPA. It's only legal because of the federal EPA creation timeline.

    Actual, approved smog tests are nothing like the tests being used to persecute VW and other diesel manufacturers in the press. But it gets better -- the approval levels are negotiated in secret. There is no actual "NOx" limit that applies to all vehicles. It's often based on the make, model, and vin.

    When you look at the legal, approved system used to te

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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