Subway hacker speaks

Popular Mechanics has an interview with [Zach Anderson], one of the MIT hackers that was temporarily gagged by the MBTA. The interview is essentially a timeline of the events that led up to the Defcon talk cancellation. [Zach] pointed out a great article by The Tech that covers the vulnerabilities. The mag stripe cards can be easily cloned. The students we’re also able to increase the value of the card by brute forcing the checksum. There are only 64 possible checksum values, so they made a card for each one. It’s not graceful, but it works. The card values aren’t encrypted and there isn’t an auditing system to check what values should be on the card either. The RFID cards use Mifare classic, which we know is broken. It was NXP, Mifare’s manufacturer, that tipped off the MBTA on the actual presentation.

The Underhanded Hardware Challenge

The Polytechnic Institute of NYU is hosting an interesting embedded systems contest. They’ve constructed a solid state cryptographic device that uses a 128-bit private key. Contestants will be tasked with designing and implementing several trojans into the system that will undermine the security. The system is built on a Digilent BASYS Spartan-3 FPGA board. The trojans could do a wide variety of things: transmitting unencrypted, storing and transmitting previously entered plain text, or just shutting down the system entirely. The modified devices still need to pass the factory testing procedure though, which will measure power consumption, code size, and function. After a qualification round, participants will be given the necessary hardware to compete.

[via NYC Resistor (Happy Birthday!)]

HOPE 2008: The impossibility of hardware obfuscation

The Last HOPE is off and running in NYC. [Karsten Nohl] started the day by presenting The (Im)possibility of Hardware Obfuscation. [Karsten] is well versed in this subject having worked on a team that the broke the MiFare crypto1 RFID chip. The algorithm used is proprietary so part of their investigation was looking directly at the hardware. As [bunnie] mentioned in his Toorcon silicon hacking talk, silicon is hard to design even before considering security, it must obey the laws of physics (everything the hardware does has to be physically built), and in the manufacturing process the chip is reverse engineered to verify it. All of these elements make it very interesting for hackers. For the MiFare crack, they shaved off layers of silicon and photographed them. Using Matlab they visually identified the various gates and looked for crypto like parts. If you’re interested in what these logic cells look like, [Karsten] has assembled The Silicon Zoo. The Zoo has pictures of standard cells like inverters, buffers, latches, flip-flops, etc. Have a look at [Chris Tarnovsky]‘s work to learn about how he processes smart cards or [nico]‘s guide to exposing standard chips we covered earlier in the week.

Bruce Schneier’s opinion on everything

Honestly, we were originally sent this Q&A with famed cryptographer [Bruce Schneier] as a restaurant recommendation (112 Eatery, Minneapolis). Posted last fall on NYTimes’ Freakonomics blog it covers [Bruce]‘s opinion on nearly everything. Here are a few items in particular that really stuck out to us:

The most immediate threat to the average person is crime – in particular, fraud. And as I said before, even if you don’t store that data on your computer, someone else has it on theirs. But the long-term threat of loss of privacy is much greater, because it has the potential to change society for the worse.

What you’re really asking me is about the security. No one steals credit card numbers one-by-one, by eavesdropping on the Internet connection. They’re all stolen in blocks of a million by hacking the back-end database. It doesn’t matter if you bought something over the Internet, by phone, by mail, or in person – you’re equally vulnerable.

We already knew he doesn’t secure his WiFi (neither do we) and you’ll find many other interesting discussions in the article. If you want Bruce Schneier facts though, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Breaking disk encryption with RAM dumps

If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, do watch the video of this attack. It’s does a good job explaining the problem. Full drive encryption stores the key in RAM while the computer is powered on. The RAM’s stored data doesn’t immediately disappear when powered off, but fades over time. To recover the keys, they powered off the computer and booted from a USB disk that created an image of the RAM. You can read more about the attack here.

How can you reduce this threat? You can turn off USB booting and then put a password on the BIOS to prevent the specific activity shown in the video. Also, you can encrypt your rarely used data in a folder on the disk. They could still decrypt the disk, but they won’t get everything. I don’t think this problem will truly be fixed unless there is a fundamental change in hardware design to erase the RAM and even then it would probably only help computers that are powered off, not suspended.

The potential for this attack has always been talked about and I’m glad to see someone pull it off. I’m hoping to see future research into dumping RAM data using a USB/ExpressCard with DMA access.

24C3 Mifare crypto1 RFID completely broken

Another highlight for us at CCC was [Karsten Nohl] and [Henryk Plötz] presenting how they reversed Philips crypto-1 “classic” Mifare RFID chips which are used in car keys, among other things. They analyzed both the silicon and the actual handshaking over RF. Looking at the silicon they found about 10K gates. Analyzing with Matlab turned up 70 unique functions. Then they started looking “crypto-like” parts: long strings of flip-flops used for registers, XORs, things near the edge that were heavily interconnected. Only 10% of the gates ended up being crypto. They now know the crypto algorithm based on this analysis and will be releasing later in the year.

The random number generator ended up being only 16-bit. It generates this number based on how long since the card has been powered up. They controlled the reader (an OpenPCD) which lets them generate the same “random” seed number over and over again. This was actually happening on accident before they discovered the flaw.

One more broken security-through-obscurity system to add to the list. For more fun, watch the video of the presentation.

ToorCon 9: Crypto Boot Camp

[Rodney Thayer] gave a 2 hour seminar on cryptographic technology. It was designed to give the audience a working knowledge for dealing with vendors. He gave some rules of thumb for choosing encryption. In order of preference, when doing symmetric key crypto: use AES with a minimum 128bit key, if not that 3-key Triple-DES, or last RC4 with 128bit key. For hashing: SHA 256 preferred, SHA 1 if you can’t do any better, and MD5 if you can’t SHA. For public key: RSA using at least a 2048bit key. The top choices in these lists were picked because they’ve stood up to years of scrutiny. One major theme of talk was to never roll your own crypto algorithm or buy someone elses. Proprietary algorithms get broken all the time, like the GSM A5 crypto we talked about earlier this year.