Entries Tagged "cloning"

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Renew Your Passport Now!

If you have a passport, now is the time to renew it — even if it’s not set to expire anytime soon. If you don’t have a passport and think you might need one, now is the time to get it. In many countries, including the United States, passports will soon be equipped with RFID chips. And you don’t want one of these chips in your passport.

RFID stands for “radio-frequency identification.” Passports with RFID chips store an electronic copy of the passport information: your name, a digitized picture, etc. And in the future, the chip might store fingerprints or digital visas from various countries.

By itself, this is no problem. But RFID chips don’t have to be plugged in to a reader to operate. Like the chips used for automatic toll collection on roads or automatic fare collection on subways, these chips operate via proximity. The risk to you is the possibility of surreptitious access: Your passport information might be read without your knowledge or consent by a government trying to track your movements, a criminal trying to steal your identity or someone just curious about your citizenship.

At first the State Department belittled those risks, but in response to criticism from experts it has implemented some security features. Passports will come with a shielded cover, making it much harder to read the chip when the passport is closed. And there are now access-control and encryption mechanisms, making it much harder for an unauthorized reader to collect, understand and alter the data.

Although those measures help, they don’t go far enough. The shielding does no good when the passport is open. Travel abroad and you’ll notice how often you have to show your passport: at hotels, banks, Internet cafes. Anyone intent on harvesting passport data could set up a reader at one of those places. And although the State Department insists that the chip can be read only by a reader that is inches away, the chips have been read from many feet away.

The other security mechanisms are also vulnerable, and several security researchers have already discovered flaws. One found that he could identify individual chips via unique characteristics of the radio transmissions. Another successfully cloned a chip. The State Department called this a “meaningless stunt,” pointing out that the researcher could not read or change the data. But the researcher spent only two weeks trying; the security of your passport has to be strong enough to last 10 years.

This is perhaps the greatest risk. The security mechanisms on your passport chip have to last the lifetime of your passport. It is as ridiculous to think that passport security will remain secure for that long as it would be to think that you won’t see another security update for Microsoft Windows in that time. Improvements in antenna technology will certainly increase the distance at which they can be read and might even allow unauthorized readers to penetrate the shielding.

Whatever happens, if you have a passport with an RFID chip, you’re stuck. Although popping your passport in the microwave will disable the chip, the shielding will cause all kinds of sparking. And although the United States has said that a nonworking chip will not invalidate a passport, it is unclear if one with a deliberately damaged chip will be honored.

The Colorado passport office is already issuing RFID passports, and the State Department expects all U.S. passport offices to be doing so by the end of the year. Many other countries are in the process of changing over. So get a passport before it’s too late. With your new passport you can wait another 10 years for an RFID passport, when the technology will be more mature, when we will have a better understanding of the security risks and when there will be other technologies we can use to cut the risks. You don’t want to be a guinea pig on this one.

This op ed appeared on Saturday in the Washington Post.

I’ve written about RFID passports many times before (that last link is an op-ed from The International Herald-Tribune), although last year I — mistakenly — withdrew my objections based on the security measures the State Department was taking. I’ve since realized that they won’t be enough.

EDITED TO ADD (9/29): This op ed has appeared in about a dozen newspapers. The San Jose Mercury News published a rebuttal. Kind of lame, I think.

EDITED TO ADD (12/30): Here’s how to disable a RFID passport.

Posted on September 18, 2006 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Stealing Credit Card Information off Phone Lines

Here’s a sophisticated credit card fraud ring that intercepted credit card authorization calls in Phuket, Thailand.

The fraudsters loaded this data onto MP3 players, which they sent to accomplices in neighbouring Malaysia. Cloned credit cards were manufactured in Malaysia and sent back to Thailand, where they were used to fraudulently purchase goods and services.

It’s 2006 and those merchant terminals still don’t encrypt their communications?

Posted on August 15, 2006 at 6:19 AMView Comments

Technological Arbitrage

This is interesting. Seems that a group of Sri Lankan credit card thieves collected the data off a bunch of UK chip-protected credit cards.

All new credit cards in the UK come embedded come with RFID chips that contain different pieces of user information, in order to access the account and withdraw cash the ATMs has to verify both the magnetic strip and the RFID tag. Without this double verification the ATM will confiscate the card, and possibly even notify the police.

They’re not RFID chips, they’re normal smart card chips that require physical contact — but that’s not the point.

They couldn’t clone the chips, so they took the information off the magnetic stripe and made non-chip cards. These cards wouldn’t work in the UK, of course, so the criminals flew down to India where the ATMs only verify the magnetic stripe.

Backwards compatibility is often incompatible with security. This is a good example, and demonstrates how criminals can make use of “technological arbitrage” to leverage compatibility.

EDITED TO ADD (8/9): Facts corrected above.

Posted on August 9, 2006 at 6:32 AMView Comments

Hackers Clone RFID Passports

It was demonstrated today at the BlackHat conference.

Grunwald says it took him only two weeks to figure out how to clone the passport chip. Most of that time he spent reading the standards for e-passports that are posted on a website for the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body that developed the standard. He tested the attack on a new European Union German passport, but the method would work on any country’s e-passport, since all of them will be adhering to the same ICAO standard.

In a demonstration for Wired News, Grunwald placed his passport on top of an official passport-inspection RFID reader used for border control. He obtained the reader by ordering it from the maker — Walluf, Germany-based ACG Identification Technologies — but says someone could easily make their own for about $200 just by adding an antenna to a standard RFID reader.

He then launched a program that border patrol stations use to read the passports — called Golden Reader Tool and made by secunet Security Networks — and within four seconds, the data from the passport chip appeared on screen in the Golden Reader template.

Grunwald then prepared a sample blank passport page embedded with an RFID tag by placing it on the reader — which can also act as a writer — and burning in the ICAO layout, so that the basic structure of the chip matched that of an official passport.

As the final step, he used a program that he and a partner designed two years ago, called RFDump, to program the new chip with the copied information.

The result was a blank document that looks, to electronic passport readers, like the original passport.

I’ve long been opposed (that last link is an op-ed from The International Herald-Tribune) to RFID chips in passports, although last year I — mistakenly — withdrew my objections based on the security measures the State Department was taking.

That’s silly. I’m not opposed to chips on ID cards, I am opposed to RFID chips. My fear is surreptitious access: someone could read the chip and learn your identity without your knowledge or consent.

Sure, the State Department is implementing security measures to prevent that. But as we all know, these measures won’t be perfect. And a passport has a ten-year lifetime. It’s sheer folly to believe the passport security won’t be hacked in that time. This hack took only two weeks!

The best way to solve a security problem is not to have it at all. If there’s an RFID chip on your passport, or any of your identity cards, you have to worry about securing it. If there’s no RFID chip, then the security problem is solved.

Until I hear a compelling case for why there must be an RFID chip on a passport, and why a normal smart-card chip can’t do, I am opposed to the idea.

Crossposted to the ACLU blog.

Posted on August 3, 2006 at 3:45 PMView Comments

Shell Suspends Chip & Pin in the UK

According to the BBC:

Petrol giant Shell has suspended chip-and-pin payments in 600 UK petrol stations after more than £1m was siphoned out of customers’ accounts.

This is just sad:

“These Pin pads are supposed to be tamper resistant, they are supposed to shut down, so that has obviously failed,” said Apacs spokeswoman Sandra Quinn.

She said Apacs was confident the problem was specific to Shell and not a systemic issue.

A Shell spokeswoman said: “Shell’s chip-and-pin solution is fully accredited and complies with all relevant industry standards.

That spokesperson simply can’t conceive of the fact that those “relevant industry standards” were written by those trying to sell the technology, and might possibly not be enough to ensure security.

And this is just after APACS (that’s the Association of Payment Clearing Services, by the way) reported that chip-and-pin technology reduced fraud by 13%.

Good commentary here. See also this article. Here’s a chip-and-pin FAQ from February.

EDITED TO ADD (5/8): Arrests have been made. And details emerge:

The scam works by criminals implanting devices into chip and pin machines which can copy a bank card’s magnetic strip and record a person’s pin number.

The device cannot copy the chip, which means any fake card can only be used in machines where chip and pin is not implemented – often abroad.

This is a common attack, one that I talk about in Beyond Fear: falling back to a less secure system. The attackers made use of the fact that there is a less secure system that is running parallel to the chip-and-pin system. Clever.

Posted on May 8, 2006 at 12:41 PMView Comments

More on the ATM-Card Class Break

A few days ago, I wrote about the class break of Citibank ATM cards in Canada, the UK, and Russia. This is new news:

With consumers around the country reporting mysterious fraudulent account withdrawals, and multiple banks announcing problems with stolen account information, it appears thieves have unleashed a powerful new way to steal money from cash machines.

Criminals have stolen bank account data from a third-party company, several banks have said, and then used the data to steal money from related accounts using counterfeit cards at ATM machines.

The central question surrounding the new wave of crime is this: How did the thieves managed to foil the PIN code system designed to fend off such crimes? Investigators are considering the possibility that criminals have stolen PIN codes from a retailer, MSNBC has learned.

Read the whole article. Details are emerging slowly, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.

EDITED TO ADD (3/11): More info in these four articles.

Posted on March 9, 2006 at 3:51 PMView Comments

Cell Phone Companies and Security

This is a fascinating story of cell phone fraud, security, economics, and externalities. Its moral is obvious, and demonstrates how economic considerations drive security decisions.

Susan Drummond was a customer of Rogers Wireless, a large Canadaian cell phone company. Her phone was cloned while she was on vacation, and she got a $12,237.60 phone bill (her typical bill was $75). Rogers maintains that there is nothing to be done, and that Drummond has to pay.

Like all cell phone companies, Rogers has automatic fraud detection systems that detect this kind of abnormal cell phone usage. They don’t turn the cell phones off, though, because they don’t want to annoy their customers.

Ms. Hopper [a manager in Roger’s security department] said terrorist groups had identified senior cellphone company officers as perfect targets, since the company was loath to shut off their phones for reasons that included inconvenience to busy executives and, of course, the public-relations debacle that would take place if word got out.

As long as Rogers can get others to pay for the fraud, this makes perfect sense. Shutting off a phone based on an automatic fraud-detection system costs the phone company in two ways: people inconvenienced by false alarms, and bad press. But the major cost of not shutting off a phone remains an externality: the customer pays for it.

In fact, there seems be some evidence that Rogers decides whether or not to shut off a suspecious phone based on the customer’s ability to pay:

Ms. Innes [a vice-president with Rogers Communications] said that Rogers has a policy of contacting consumers if fraud is suspected. In some cases, she admitted, phones are shut off automatically, but refused to say what criteria were used. (Ms. Drummond and Mr. Gefen believe that the company bases the decision on a customer’s creditworthiness. “If you have the financial history, they let the meter run,” Ms. Drummond said.) Ms. Drummond noted that she has a salary of more than $100,000, and a sterling credit history. “They knew something was wrong, but they thought they could get the money out of me. It’s ridiculous.”

Makes sense from Rogers’ point of view. High-paying customers are 1) more likely to pay, and 2) more damaging if pissed off in a false alarm. Again, economic considerations trump security.

Rogers is defending itself in court, and shows no signs of backing down:

In court filings, the company has made it clear that it intends to hold Ms. Drummond responsible for the calls made on her phone. “. . . the plaintiff is responsible for all calls made on her phone prior to the date of notification that her phone was stolen,” the company says. “The Plaintiff’s failure to mitigate deprived the Defendant of the opportunity to take any action to stop fraudulent calls prior to the 28th of August 2005.”

The solution here is obvious: Rogers should not be able to charge its customers for telephone calls they did not make. Ms. Drummond’s phone was cloned; there is no possible way she could notify Rogers of this before she saw calls she did not make on her bill. She is also completely powerless to affect the anti-cloning security in the Rogers phone system. To make her liable for the fraud is to ensure that the problem never gets fixed.

Rogers is the only party in a position to do something about the problem. The company can, and according to the article has, implemented automatic fraud-detection software.

Rogers customers will pay for the fraud in any case. If they are responsible for the loss, either they’ll take their chances and pay a lot only if they are the victims, or there’ll be some insurance scheme that spreads the cost over the entire customer base. If Rogers is responsible for the loss, then the customers will pay in the form of slightly higher prices. But only if Rogers is responsible for the loss will they implement security countermeasures to limit fraud.

And if they do that, everyone benefits.

There is a Slashdot thread on the topic.

Posted on December 19, 2005 at 1:10 PMView Comments

Identity Theft out of Golf Lockers

When someone goes golfing in Japan, he’s given a locker in which to store his valuables. Generally, and at the golf course in question, these are electronic combination locks. The user selects a code himself and locks his valuables. Of course, there’s a back door — a literal one — to the lockers, in case someone forgets his unlock code. Furthermore, the back door allows the administrator of these lockers to read all the codes to all the lockers.

Here’s the scam: A group of thieves worked in conjunction with the locker administrator to open the lockers, copy the golfers’ debit cards, and replace them in their wallets and in their lockers before they were done golfing. In many cases, the golfers used the same code to lock their locker as their bank card PIN, so the thieves got those as well. Then the thieves stole a lot of money from multiple ATMs.

Several factors make this scam even worse. One, unlike the U.S., ATM cards in Japan have no limit. You can literally withdraw everything out of the account. Two, the victims don’t know anything until they find out they have no money when they use their card somewhere. Three, the victims, since they play golf at these expensive courses, are
usually very rich. And four, unlike the United States, Japanese banks do not guarantee loss due to theft.

Posted on March 1, 2005 at 9:20 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.