Kirill Levchenko

Abstract: How They Did It: An Analysis of Emission Defeat Devices in Modern Automobiles

Modern vehicles are required to comply with a range of environmental regulations limiting the level of emissions for various greenhouse gases, toxins and particulate matter. To ensure compliance, regulators test vehicles in controlled settings and empirically measure their emissions at the tailpipe. However, the black box nature of this testing and the standardization of its forms have created an opportunity for evasion. Using modern electronic engine controllers, manufacturers can programmatically infer when a car is undergoing an emission test and alter the behavior of the vehicle to comply with emission standards, while exceeding them during normal driving in favor of improved performance. While the use of such a defeat device by Volkswagen has brought the issue of emissions cheating to the public’s attention, there have been few details about the precise nature of the defeat device, how it came to be, and its effect on vehicle behavior.

This talk will present an analysis of two families of software defeat devices for diesel engines: one used by the Volkswagen Group to pass emissions tests in the US and Europe, and a second found in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The talk will describe the precise conditions used by the firmware to detect a test cycle and how it affects engine behavior. This work frames the technical challenges faced by regulators going forward and highlights the important research agenda in providing focused software assurance in the presence of adversarial manufacturers.


Kirill Levchenko is an Associate Research Scientist at UC San Diego. he received his Ph.D. from UC San Diego in 2008. His research includes network routing, network security, e-crime and online service abuse, spam, and embedded system security.