How they hacked it: The MiFare RFID crack explained
A look at the research behind the chip compromise
Computerworld - Last month, the Dutch government issued a warning about the security of access keys based on the ubiquitous MiFare Classic RFID chip. The warning comes on the heels of an ingenious hack, spearheaded by Henryk Plotz, a German researcher, and Karsten Nohl, a doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of Virginia, that demonstrated a way to crack the encryption on the chip.
Millions upon millions of MiFare Classic chips are used worldwide in contexts such as payment cards for public transportation networks throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S. and in building-access passes.
The report asserts that systems employing MiFare will likely be secure for another two years, since hacking the chip seems to be an involved and expensive process. But in a recent report published by Nohl, titled "Cryptanalysis of Crypto-1," he presents an attack that recovers secret keys in mere minutes on an average desktop PC.
In December, Nohl and Plotz gave a presentation on MiFare's security vulnerabilities at the 24th Chaos Communications Congress (24C3), the annual four-day conference organized by Germany's notorious hacking collective, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). Thousands of hackers from far-flung locales converged on Berlin between Christmas and New Year's for a raft of talks and project demonstrations.
In their popular talk at 24C3, punctuated by bursts of raucous applause, Nohl presented an overview of radio frequency identification security vulnerabilities and the process of hacking the MiFare chip's means of encryption, known as the Crypto-1 cipher. "This is the first public announcement that the Crypto-1 cipher on the MiFare tag is known," said Nohl in December at the 24C3 talk. "We will give out further details next year."
Get out the microscopes
To hack the chip, Nohl and Plotz reverse-engineered the cryptography on the MiFare chip through a painstaking process. They examined the actual MiFare Classic chip in exacting detail using a microscope and the open-source OpenPCD RFID reader and snapped several in-depth photographs of the chip's architecture. The chip is tiny -- about a 1-millimeter-square shred of silicon -- and is composed sed of several layers.
The researchers sliced off the minuscule layers of the chip and took photos of each layer. There are thousands of tiny blocks on the chip -- about 10,000 in all -- each encoding something such as an AND gate or an OR gate or a flip-flop.
Analyzing all of the blocks on the chip would have taken forever, but there was a shortcut. "We couldn't actually look at all 10,000 of these small building blocks, so we wanted to categorize them a bit before we started analyzing," said Nohl at 24C3. "We observed that there aren't actually 10,000 different ones. They're all taken from a library of cells. There are only about 70 different types of gates; we ended up writing MATLAB scripts that once we select one instance of a gate finds all the other ones."
- Radicati: Cloud Business Email - Market Quadrant 2013 Google was named the top cloud business email provider in a recent report by research firm Radicati. Out of 14 key players, Google...
- Tablets in the Enterprise: A Checklist for Successful Deployment How can you enterprise manage and secure tablets in order to protect corporate data while providing access to the information and applications employees...
- Enterprise Mobility: A Checklist for Secure Containerization The advantages and disadvantages of the multiple approaches to containerization. Learn More>>
- Enterprise File Sync & Share Checklist File sync and share has changed the way people work and collaborate in today's tech-savvy world. Gone are the email roadblocks, clunky FTP...
- Live Webcast LIVE EVENT: 5/7, The End of Data Protection As We Know It. Introducing a Next Generation Data Protection Architecture. Traditional backup is going away, but where does this leave end-users?
- LIVE EVENT: 5/7, The End of Data Protection As We Know It. Introducing a Next Generation Data Protection Architecture. Traditional backup is going away, but where does this leave end-users?
- On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy... All Security White Papers | Webcasts