Posts filed under 'Banking security

Oct 9, '12

It has been four or five months since NatWest launched a new function in its mobile phone app – GetCash. The goal was to allow customers to withdraw cash from NatWest’s ATMs without a debit or credit card. The app receives a six digit code that customers can type into an ATM and get as much as £100 at a time. I am not sure how useful it is as I personally forget my mobile phone more often than my wallet but it appears that some crooks found it very useful indeed.

A news about the service being suspended broke out on 6th of October and it has been covered in BBC Breakfast today. I have several thoughts related to this incident. (more…)

Sep 10, '12

November last, on the Eurostar back from Paris, something struck me as I looked at the logs of ATM withdrawals disputed by Alex Gambin, a customer of HSBC in Malta. Comparing four grainy log pages on a tiny phone screen, I had to scroll away from the transaction data to see the page numbers, so I couldn’t take in the big picture in one go. I differentiated pages instead using the EMV Unpredictable Number field – a 32 bit field that’s supposed to be unique to each transaction. I soon got muddled up… it turned out that the unpredictable numbers… well… weren’t. Each shared 17 bits in common and the remaining 15 looked at first glance like a counter. The numbers are tabulated as follows:

F1246E04
F1241354
F1244328
F1247348

And with that the ball started rolling on an exciting direction of research that’s kept us busy the last nine months. You see, an EMV payment card authenticates itself with a MAC of transaction data, for which the freshly generated component is the unpredictable number (UN). If you can predict it, you can record everything you need from momentary access to a chip card to play it back and impersonate the card at a future date and location. You can as good as clone the chip. It’s called a “pre-play” attack. Just like most vulnerabilities we find these days some in industry already knew about it but covered it up; we have indications the crooks know about this too, and we believe it explains a good portion of the unsolved phantom withdrawal cases reported to us for which we had until recently no explanation.

Mike Bond, Omar Choudary, Steven J. Murdoch, Sergei Skorobogatov, and Ross Anderson wrote a paper on the research, and Steven is presenting our work as keynote speaker at Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded System (CHES) 2012, in Leuven, Belgium. We discovered that the significance of these numbers went far beyond this one case.

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Jun 12, '12

I was a guest the annual meeting of the European branch of ATM Industry Association. This was a two day event in London (May 22–23, 2012). I was there thanks to Tom Harper, founder of ATM Marketplace, that is, a B2B website for ancillary cash machine equipment (established circa 1997). Although my interest was to meet Tom to finalise an outline for a forthcoming history of the ATM, the almost ethnographic experience of attending a practitioner conference was refreshing. What follows are some of my impressions of the first day (as I had an overseas engagement the rest of the week).

The conference was jointly organised by ATMIA and Dominic Hirsh’s Retail Banking Research. I have used some of RBR’s data in the past and it is indeed one of the most authoritative sources of information on cash machines, cards and payments. During one of the presentations it was shown how estimates of ATM deployed in Sweden were more accurate than those the Riksbank.

Of greater interest for this blog, is that RBR also organises an annual conference on security. That was a bit disappointing since I was looking to hear on it. Other topics off the agenda included SEPA, regulation enabling independent ATM deployers (IAD) and pressures to reduce interchange fees. I was told they had been addressed in the recent past. In this sense and surprising for a meeting of some 70+ presenters and 500 attendees, the conference was much more ‘on theme’ than an academic gathering of similar size.

So what were the themes? The main theme was self service kiosks, while sub-themes included the cashless society and EMV (interoperation standard for Europay, Visa and Mastercard chip cards).

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May 12, '12

Two years ago, Hyoungshick Kim, Jun Ho Huh and I wrote a paper On the Security of Internet banking in South Korea in which we discussed an IT security policy that had gone horribly wrong. The Government of Korea had tried in 1998 to secure electronic commerce by getting all the banks to use an officially-approved AciveX plugin, effectively locking most Koreans into IE. We argued in 2010 that this provided less security than it seemed, and imposed high usability and compatibility costs. Hyoungshick presented our paper at a special conference, and the government withdrew the ActiveX mandate.

It’s now apparent that the problem is still there. The bureaucracy created a procedure to approve alternative technologies, and (surprise) still hasn’t approved any. Korean web businesses remain trapped in the bubble, and fall farther and farther behind. This may well come to be seen as a warning to other governments to adopt true open standards, if they want to avoid a similar fate. The Cabinet Office should take note – and don’t forget to respond to their consultation!

Mar 29, '12

I’ve just given a talk on Risk and privacy implications of consumer payment innovation (slides) at the Federal Reserve Bank’s payments conference. There are many more attendees this year; who’d have believed that payment systems would ever become sexy? Yet there’s a lot of innovation, and regulators are starting to wonder. Payment systems now contain many non-bank players, from insiders like First Data, FICO and Experian to service firms like PayPal and Google. I describe a number of competitive developments and argue that although fraud may increase, so will welfare, so there’s no reason to panic. For now, bank supervisors should work on collecting better fraud statistics, so that if there ever is a crisis the response can be well-informed.

Feb 20, '12

Note: this research was also blogged today at the NY Times’ Bits technology blog.

I’ve personally been researching password statistics for a few years now (as well as personal knowledge questions) and our research group has a long history of research on banking security. In an upcoming paper at next weel’s Financial Cryptography conference written with Sören Preibusch and Ross Anderson, we’ve brought the two research threads together with the first-ever quantitative analysis of the difficulty of guessing 4-digit banking PINs. Somewhat amazingly given the importance of PINs and their entrenchment in infrastructure around the world, there’s never been an academic study of how people actually choose them. After modeling banking PIN selection using a combination of leaked data from non-banking sources and a massive online survey, we found that people are significantly more careful choosing PINs then online passwords, with a majority using an effectively random sequence of digits. Still, the persistence of a few weak choices and birthdates in particular suggests that guessing attacks may be worthwhile for an opportunistic thief. (more…)

Dec 25, '11

Every Christmas we give our friends in the banking industry a wee present. Sometimes it’s the responsible disclosure of a vulnerability, which we publish the following February: 2007’s was PED certification, 2008’s was CAP while in 2009 we told the banking industry of the No-PIN attack. This year too we have some goodies in the hamper: watch our papers at Financial Crypto 2012.

In other years, we’ve had arguments with the bankers’ PR wallahs. In 2010, for example, their trade association tried to censor one of our students’ thesis. That saga also continues; Britain’s bankers tried once more to threaten us so we told them once more to go away. We have other conversations in progress with bankers, most of them thankfully a bit more constructive.

This year’s Christmas present is different: it’s a tale with a happy ending. Eve Russell was a fraud victim whom Barclays initially blamed for her misfortune, as so often happens, and the Financial Ombudsman Service initially found for the bank as it routinely does. Yet this was clearly not right; after many lawyers’ letters, two hearings at the ombudsman, two articles in The Times and a TV appearance on Rip-off Britain, Eve won. This is the first complete case file since the ombudsman came under the Freedom of Information Act; by showing how the system works, it may be useful to fraud victims in the future.

For your Christmas entertainment, we offer the bank statement which told Eve of the fraud; the initial exchange of letters between Eve’s lawyers and the bank; the ombudsman’s routine initial ruling against Eve, and her protest; the correspondence between the ombudsman and Barclays; Eve’s appeal and expert opinion; the verdict; and the offer of settlement. And let’s not forget the Thunder. A Merry Christmas to all!

Sep 24, '11

We’ve been offered funding for a PhD student to work at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory on the security of mobile payments, starting in April 2012.

The objective is to explore how we can make mobile payment systems dependable despite the presence of malware. Research topics include the design of next-generation secure element hardware, trustworthy user interfaces, and mechanisms to detect and recover from compromise. Relevant skills include Android, payment protocols, human-computer interaction, hardware and software security, and cryptography.

As the sponsor wishes to start the project by April, we strongly encourage applications by 28 October 2011 (although candidates who do not need a visa to work in the UK might conceivably apply as late as early December). Enquiries should be directed to Ross Anderson.

May 9, '11

About a moth ago I’ve presented at the Security Protocols Workshop a new idea to detect relay attacks, co-developed with Frank Stajano.

The idea relies on having a trusted box (which we call the T-Box as in the image below) between the physical interfaces of two communicating parties. The T-Box accepts 2 inputs (one from each party) and provides one output (seen by both parties). It ensures that none of the parties can determine the complete input of the other party.

T-Box

Therefore by connecting 2 instances of a T-Box together (as in the case of a relay attack) the message from one end to the other (Alice and Bob in the image above) gets distorted twice as much as it would in the case of a direct connection. That’s the basic idea.

One important question is how does the T-Box operate on the inputs such that we can detect a relay attack? In the paper we describe two example implementations based on a bi-directional channel (which is used for example between a smart card and a terminal). In order to help the reader understand these examples better and determine the usefulness of our idea Mike Bond and I have created a python simulation. This simulation allows you to choose the type of T-Box implementation, a direct or relay connection, as well as other parameters including the length of the anti-relay data stream and detection threshold.

In these two implementations we have restricted ourselves to make the T-Box part of the communication channel. The advantage is that we don’t rely on any party providing the T-Box since it is created automatically by communicating over the physical channel. The disadvantage is that a more powerful attacker can sample the line at twice the speed and overcome our T-Box solution.

The relay attack can be used against many applications, including all smart card based payments. There are already several ideas, including distance bounding, for detecting relay attacks. However our idea brings a new approach to the existing methods, and we hope that in the future we can find a practical implementation of our solutions, or a good scenario to use a physical T-Box which should not be affected by a powerful attacker.

Apr 27, '11

Sometime last week, Sony discovered that up to 77 M accounts on its PlayStation Network were compromised. Sony’s network was down for a week before they finally disclosed details yesterday. Unusually, there haven’t yet been any credible claims of responsibility for the hack, so we can only go on Sony’s official statements. The breach included names and addresses, passwords, and answers to personal knowledge questions, and possibly payment details. The risks of leaking payment card numbers are well-known, including fraudulent payment transactions and identity theft. Sony has responded by offering to provide free credit checks for affected customers and notifying major credit ratings bureaus with a list of affected customers. This hasn’t been enough for many critics, including a US Senator.

Still, this is far more than Sony has done regarding the leaked passwords. The risks here are very real—hackers can attempt to re-use the compromised passwords (possibly after inverting hashes using brute-force) at many other websites, including financial ones. There are no disclosure laws here though, and Sony has done nothing, not even disclosing the key technical details of how passwords were stored. The implications are very different if the passwords were stored in cleartext, hashed in a constant manner, or properly hashed and salted. Sony customers ought to know what really happened. Instead, towards the bottom of Sony’s FAQ they trail off mid sentence when discussing the leaked passwords:

Additionally, if you use the same user name or password for your PlayStation Network or Qriocity service account for other [no further text]

As we explored last summer, this is a serious market failure. Sony’s security breach has potentially compromised passwords at hundreds of other sites where its users re-use the same password and email address as credentials. This is a significant externality, but Sony bears no legal responsibility, and it shows. The options are never great once a breach has occurred, but Sony should at a minimum have promptly provided full details about their password storage, gave clear instructions to users to change their password at other sites, and notified at least the email providers of each account holder to instruct a forced password reset. The legal framework surrounding password breaches must catch up to that for financial breaches.


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