It’s not yet very accurate or practical, but under ideal conditions it is possible to figure out the shape of a house key by listening to it being used.
Listen to Your Key: Towards Acoustics-based Physical Key Inference
Abstract: Physical locks are one of the most prevalent mechanisms for securing objects such as doors. While many of these locks are vulnerable to lock-picking, they are still widely used as lock-picking requires specific training with tailored instruments, and easily raises suspicion. In this paper, we propose SpiKey, a novel attack that significantly lowers the bar for an attacker as opposed to the lock-picking attack, by requiring only the use of a smartphone microphone to infer the shape of victim’s key, namely bittings(or cut depths) which form the secret of a key. When a victim inserts his/her key into the lock, the emitted sound is captured by the attacker’s microphone.SpiKey leverages the time difference between audible clicks to ultimately infer the bitting information, i.e., shape of the physical key. As a proof-of-concept, we provide a simulation, based on real-world recordings, and demonstrate a significant reduction in search spacefrom a pool of more than 330 thousand keys to three candidate keys for the most frequent case.
Scientific American podcast:
The strategy is a long way from being viable in the real world. For one thing, the method relies on the key being inserted at a constant speed. And the audio element also poses challenges like background noise.
Boing Boing post.
EDITED TO ADD (4/14): I seem to have blogged this previously.
Posted on March 24, 2021 at 6:10 AM •
A water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida, was attacked last Friday. The attacker took control of one of the systems, and increased the amount of sodium hydroxide—that’s lye—by a factor of 100. This could have been fatal to people living downstream, if an alert operator hadn’t noticed the change and reversed it.
We don’t know who is behind this attack. Despite its similarities to a Russian attack of a Ukrainian power plant in 2015, my bet is that it’s a disgruntled insider: either a current or former employee. It just doesn’t make sense for Russia to be behind this.
ArsTechnica is reporting on the poor cybersecurity at the plant:
The Florida water treatment facility whose computer system experienced a potentially hazardous computer breach last week used an unsupported version of Windows with no firewall and shared the same TeamViewer password among its employees, government officials have reported.
Brian Krebs points out that the fact that we know about this attack is what’s rare:
Spend a few minutes searching Twitter, Reddit or any number of other social media sites and you’ll find countless examples of researchers posting proof of being able to access so-called “human-machine interfaces”—basically web pages designed to interact remotely with various complex systems, such as those that monitor and/or control things like power, water, sewage and manufacturing plants.
And yet, there have been precious few known incidents of malicious hackers abusing this access to disrupt these complex systems. That is, until this past Monday, when Florida county sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a remarkably clear-headed and fact-filled news conference about an attempt to poison the water supply of Oldsmar, a town of around 15,000 not far from Tampa.
Posted on February 12, 2021 at 6:08 AM •
This essay makes the point that actual computer hackers would be a useful addition to NATO wargames:
The international information security community is filled with smart people who are not in a military structure, many of whom would be excited to pose as independent actors in any upcoming wargames. Including them would increase the reality of the game and the skills of the soldiers building and training on these networks. Hackers and cyberwar experts would demonstrate how industrial control systems such as power supply for refrigeration and temperature monitoring in vaccine production facilities are critical infrastructure; they’re easy targets and should be among NATO’s priorities at the moment.
Diversity of thought leads to better solutions. We in the information security community strongly support the involvement of acknowledged nonmilitary experts in the development and testing of future cyberwar scenarios. We are confident that independent experts, many of whom see sharing their skills as public service, would view participation in these cybergames as a challenge and an honor.
Posted on January 29, 2021 at 12:03 PM •
…I was floored on Wednesday when, glued to my television, I saw police in some areas of the U.S. Capitol using little more than those same mobile gates I had the ones that look like bike racks that can hook together to try to keep the crowds away from sensitive areas and, later, push back people intent on accessing the grounds. (A new fence that appears to be made of sturdier material was being erected on Thursday.) That’s the same equipment and approximately the same amount of force I was able to use when a group of fans got a little feisty and tried to get backstage at a Vanilla Ice show.
There’s not ever going to be enough police or security at any event to stop people if they all act in unison; if enough people want to get to Vanilla Ice at the same time, they’re going to get to Vanilla Ice. Social constructs and basic decency, not lightweight security gates, are what hold everyone except the outliers back in a typical crowd.
When there are enough outliers in a crowd, it throws the normal dynamics of crowd control off; everyone in my business knows this. Citizens tend to hold each other to certain standards which is why my 40,000-person town does not have 40,000 police officers, and why the 8.3 million people of New York City aren’t policed by 8.3 million police officers.
Social norms are the fabric that make an event run smoothly—and, really, hold society together. There aren’t enough police in your town to handle it if everyone starts acting up at the same time.
I like that she uses the term “outliers,” and I make much the same points in Liars and Outliers.
Posted on January 13, 2021 at 6:06 AM •
Researchers are using recordings of keys being used in locks to create copies.
Once they have a key-insertion audio file, SpiKey’s inference software gets to work filtering the signal to reveal the strong, metallic clicks as key ridges hit the lock’s pins [and you can hear those filtered clicks online here]. These clicks are vital to the inference analysis: the time between them allows the SpiKey software to compute the key’s inter-ridge distances and what locksmiths call the “bitting depth” of those ridges: basically, how deeply they cut into the key shaft, or where they plateau out. If a key is inserted at a nonconstant speed, the analysis can be ruined, but the software can compensate for small speed variations.
The result of all this is that SpiKey software outputs the three most likely key designs that will fit the lock used in the audio file, reducing the potential search space from 330,000 keys to just three. “Given that the profile of the key is publicly available for commonly used [pin-tumbler lock] keys, we can 3D-print the keys for the inferred bitting codes, one of which will unlock the door,” says Ramesh.
Posted on August 20, 2020 at 6:22 AM •
Yet another Internet-connected door lock is insecure:
Sold by retailers including Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot, U-Tec’s $139.99 UltraLoq is marketed as a “secure and versatile smart deadbolt that offers keyless entry via your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone and code.”
Users can share temporary codes and ‘Ekeys’ to friends and guests for scheduled access, but according to Tripwire researcher Craig Young, a hacker able to sniff out the device’s MAC address can help themselves to an access key, too.
UltraLoq eventually fixed the vulnerabilities, but not in a way that should give you any confidence that they know what they’re doing.
EDITED TO ADD (8/12): More.
Posted on August 10, 2020 at 6:23 AM •
The attack requires physical access to the computer, but it’s pretty devastating:
On Thunderbolt-enabled Windows or Linux PCs manufactured before 2019, his technique can bypass the login screen of a sleeping or locked computer—and even its hard disk encryption—to gain full access to the computer’s data. And while his attack in many cases requires opening a target laptop’s case with a screwdriver, it leaves no trace of intrusion and can be pulled off in just a few minutes. That opens a new avenue to what the security industry calls an “evil maid attack,” the threat of any hacker who can get alone time with a computer in, say, a hotel room. Ruytenberg says there’s no easy software fix, only disabling the Thunderbolt port altogether.
“All the evil maid needs to do is unscrew the backplate, attach a device momentarily, reprogram the firmware, reattach the backplate, and the evil maid gets full access to the laptop,” says Ruytenberg, who plans to present his Thunderspy research at the Black Hat security conference this summeror the virtual conference that may replace it. “All of this can be done in under five minutes.”
Lots of details in the article above, and in the attack website. (We know it’s a modern hack, because it comes with its own website and logo.)
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): More.
Posted on May 12, 2020 at 6:09 AM •
Story of how Tiffany & Company moved all of its inventory from one store to another. Short summary: careful auditing and a lot of police.
Posted on January 16, 2020 at 10:01 AM •
This short video explains why computers regularly came with physical locks in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The one thing the video doesn’t talk about is RAM theft. When RAM was expensive, stealing it was a problem.
Posted on May 7, 2019 at 6:22 AM •
The Diqee 360 robotic vacuum cleaner can be turned into a surveillance device. The attack requires physical access to the device, so in the scheme of things it’s not a big deal. But why in the world is the vacuum equipped with a microphone?
Posted on July 31, 2018 at 6:40 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.