Daily Archives: 2007-02-06

Chip & PIN relay attacks

Saar Drimer and myself have shown that the Chip & PIN system, used for card payments in the UK, is vulnerable to a new kind of fraud. By “relaying” information from a genuine card, a Chip & PIN terminal in another shop, can be made to accept a counterfeit card. We previously discussed this possibility in “Chip & Spin” but it was not until now that we implemented and tested the attack.

A fraudster sets up a fake terminal in a busy shop or restaurant. When a genuine customer inserts their card into this terminal, the fraudster’s accomplice, in another shop, inserts their counterfeit card into the merchant’s terminal. The fake terminal reads details from the genuine card, and relays them to the counterfeit card, so that it will be accepted. The PIN is recorded by the fake terminal and sent to the accomplice for them to enter, and they can then walk off with the goods. To the victim, everything was normal, but when their statement arrives, they will find that they have been defrauded.

Equipment used in relay attack

From the banks’ perspective, there will be nothing unusual about this transaction. To them, it will seem as if the real card was used, with a chip and along with the correct PIN. Banks have previously claimed that if a fraudulent Chip & PIN transaction was placed, then the customer must have been negligent in protecting their card and PIN, and so must be liable. This work shows that despite customers taking all due care in using their card, they can still be the victim of fraud.

For more information, we have a summary of the technique and FAQ. This attack will be featured on Watchdog, tonight (6 February) at 19:00 GMT on BBC One. The programme will show how we successfully sent details between two shops in the same street, but it should work equally well, via mobile phone, to the other side of the world.

It is unlikely that criminals are currently using techniques such as this, as there are less sophisticated attacks which Chip & PIN remains vulnerable to. However, as security is improved, the relay attack may become a significant source of fraud. Therefore, it is important that defences against this attack are deployed sooner rather than later. We discuss defences in our draft academic paper, submitted for review at a peer reviewed conference.

Update (2007-01-10): The segment of Watchdog featuring our contribution has been posted to YouTube.