In Volkswagen emissions fraud scandal, proprietary software is the real villain


#1

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#2

…man, that headline… NYT says

“Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet”

Might as well say

“New York Times: It Is 2015 and Computers are fucking magic.


#3

If it were open source, then the naughty programmers would have had to obfuscate the trickery, so that inspectors wouldn’t be able to find it by browsing the code.


#4

I don’t think the EPA hires code monkeys, they are more into Yes men.


#5

Plenty of space to hide something in a quarter billion lines of code.


#6

How much of the code are various generic libraries? How much of the rest was written that way because of using chatty languages (hi, Java), and of paying the coders per line (or other KPI with the same effect)?


#7

Also presumably some of that code is dedicated to less-essential functions.

From the article:

…has reportedly said that the radio and navigation system in the current S-class Mercedes-Benz requires over 20 million lines of code alone

This 200M+ LOC estimate is also based on a luxury car. What’s the lowest trim Civic running?

Also, although recent history suggests otherwise, not all of the software should be running in the same place or interacting with other parts unless necessary.

Finally, auditing source code isn’t always about understanding what a given piece of code does. With a robust history (from a VCS, or sequential snapshots), it can often be revealing to see what changed over time.


#8

I’m friends with one of the Yes Men. I’ll suggest this to him. He could have some fun with it.


#9

Ok, what’s the newest, nicest mass-production vehicle model with zero LOC?

(I figure it’s gotta be pre-1980.)


#10

The ideal situation would be to be able to check for the presence of a tube connected to the exhaust pipe, physically. They could have added a little switch or pressure sensor, but that may be visible to testers, and it would clearly raise some red flags. Perhaps they can check for a back pressure increase that may be associated with a tube on the exhaust? Maybe a sensor further back under the car, near where the exhaust hanger is could check for any strain caused by the pressure of a hose connected to the exhaust pipe? They could say it’s just a sensor to check the integrity of the exhaust hanger system, or something?

And, if we really want to get creepy, how about this: almost all of these cars have an interior microphone, for Bluetooth phone calls and voice command stuff. Hypothetically, the car could turn the mic on and listen for key words only likely to be spoken by people conducting emissions tests: nitrous oxides, chemiluminescence detector, non-dispersive infrared spectrometer, and all the associated acronyms. The sort of emissions-geek crap that no normal human owner is likely to ever utter.


#11

Software engineer here. I own a Jetta with an automatic DSG transmission and I can feel the code inside that thing. Its got hundreds of thousands of lines of code directly working on the operations of the vehicle. No need to see it. Open sourcing it would be worthy but its not going to tell me what code is running in my actual vehicle.


#12

All it needs is to know that the front wheels are moving and the back wheels are stationary (or vice versa). I think it has to be aware of when it’s being tested anyway or else the anti lock brake system will think it’s skidding.


#13

I wouldn’t call it “creepy”.
I’d call it “not robust enough”.


#14

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