Monthly Archives: February 2008

Chip & PIN terminals vulnerable to simple attacks

Steven J. Murdoch, Ross Anderson and I looked at how well PIN entry devices (PEDs) protect cardholder data. Our paper will be published at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in May, though an extended version is available as a technical report. A segment about this work will appear on BBC Two’s Newsnight at 22:30 tonight.

We were able to demonstrate that two of the most popular PEDs in the UK — the Ingenico i3300 and Dione Xtreme — are vulnerable to a “tapping attack” using a paper clip, a needle and a small recording device. This allows us to record the data exchanged between the card and the PED’s processor without triggering tamper proofing mechanisms, and in clear violation of their supposed security properties. This attack can capture the card’s PIN because UK banks have opted to issue cheaper cards that do not use asymmetric cryptography to encrypt data between the card and PED.

Ingenico attack Dione attack

In addition to the PIN, as part of the transaction, the PED reads an exact replica of the magnetic strip (for backwards compatibility). Thus, if an attacker can tap the data line between the card and the PED’s processor, he gets all the information needed to create a magnetic strip card and withdraw money out of an ATM that does not read the chip.

We also found that the certification process of these PEDs is flawed. APACS has been effectively approving PEDs for the UK market as Common Criteria (CC) Evaluated, which does not equal Common Criteria Certified (no PEDs are CC Certified). What APACS means by “Evaluated” is that an approved lab has performed the “evaluation”, but unlike CC Certified products, the reports are kept secret, and governmental Certification Bodies do not do quality control.

This process causes a race to the bottom, with PED developers able to choose labs that will approve rather than improve PEDs, at the lowest price. Clearly, the certification process needs to be more open to the cardholders, who suffer from the fraud. It also needs to be fixed such that defective devices are refused certification.

We notified APACS, Visa, and the PED manufactures of our results in mid-November 2007 and responses arrived only in the last week or so (Visa chose to respond only a few minutes ago!) The responses are the usual claims that our demonstrations can only be done in lab conditions, that criminals are not that sophisticated, the threat to cardholder data is minimal, and that their “layers of security” will detect fraud. There is no evidence to support these claims. APACS state that the PEDs we examined will not be de-certified or removed, and the same for the labs who certified them and would not even tell us who they are.

The threat is very real: tampered PEDs have already been used for fraud. See our press release and FAQ for basic points and the technical report where we discuss the work in detail.

Update 1 (2008-03-09): The segment of Newsnight featuring our contribution has been posted to Google Video.

Update 2 (2008-03-21): If the link above doesn’t work try YouTube: part1 and part 2.

Inane security questions

I am the trustee of a small pensions scheme, which means that every few years I have to fill in a form for The Pensions Regulator. This year the form-filling is required to be done online.

In order to register for the online system I need to supply an email address and a password (“at least 8 characters long and contain at least 1 numeric or non-alphabetic character”). So far so good.

If I forget this password, I will be required to answer two security questions, which I get to choose from a little shortlist. They’ve eschewed “mother’s maiden name”, but the system designer seems to have copied them from Bebo or Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club:

  • Name of your favourite entertainer?
  • Your main childhood phone number?
  • Your favourite place to visit as a child?
  • Name of your favourite teacher?
  • Your grandfather’s occupation?
  • Your best childhood friend?
  • Name your childhood hero?

Since most pension fund trustees, the people who have to provide good answers to these questions, will be in their 50’s and 60’s, these questions are quite clearly unsuitable.

I’ve gone with the last two… each of which turn out to be different from the password, but the answers, weirdly enough, are also at least 8 characters long and contain at least one numeric or non-alphabetic character!

Computer Misuse in Scotland

Last June I explained that the Computer Misuse Act 1990 would not be amended until April 2008 — because the amendments introduced in the Police and Justice Act 2006 were themselves to be amended by the Serious Crime Act 2007, and that was not expected to come into force until then. Also, right at the end of 2007 the CPS published their guidance on how these new offences might be prosecuted.

Now Clive Feather draws my attention to a rather significant difference in the way that the law stands in Scotland.

Although on the face of it, both Acts do not extend to Scotland (Computer Misuse is a devolved matter) in practice the Scottish Parliament has used a Sewel motion (here for the Police and Justice Act, and here for the Serious Crime Act) to keep the law in both jurisdictions the same…

HOWEVER — as Clive points out — for some currently unknown reason the Scots brought the first version of the amendments into force on 1st October 2007 with this statutory instrument.

So North of the Border the law is currently different: you can prosecuted for denial-of-service attacks and locked up for distributing hacking tools… whereas in the rest of the country, it’s 1990 offences only for a few more weeks.

The changes that arrive in April with the Serious Crime Act won’t make much difference to the people of Scotland, all that happens is that one of the new offences stops being computer-specific and is more broadly drawn instead. Still, it makes you wonder why the denial-of-service offence particularly — which has been widely welcomed — has been delayed for over a year; if the Scots can cope with two law changes rather than one.

BTW: Clive has a marked up copy of the Computer Misuse Act on his website, with pretty colours to show the current form of the Act (it’s been amended a number of times now) and how it will soon look.