Hackaday Prize Entry: Controling E-ZPass

You can drive from Boston to Chicago without picking up a single ticket from a toll booth, or handing money to a single toll booth worker. You can do this because of E-ZPass, a small plastic brick mounted in most cars in the Northeast United States. The E-ZPass contains an RFID transponder linked to your checking account. Yes, it’s convenient, and yes, it is a way for the government to track your movements remotely without your knowledge.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Jordan] is peering into that suspicious white box on his dashboard and adding notifications to his E-ZPass. He’s upgraded his E-ZPass with a little bit of circuitry to his to notify him when it is being scanned, whether it’s at a turnpike plaza or just driving three blocks through midtown Manhattan.

A notification system for the E-ZPass brick has been around for a few years now thanks to a talk by [Pukingmonkey] at DEF CON. Because of this simple circuit, we know the NYPD is collecting E-ZPass data of people driving around Manhattan. Why? Something something sovereign citizen or thereabouts.

[Jordan] is taking the E-ZPass notification system a bit farther than previous builds and adding a logging functionality with a small GPS module. Of course [Jordan]’s build will still have blinkey LEDs for notifying him when the E-ZPass is read, but by logging this data to an SD card, he’ll be able to play a road trip back on his computer and do a proper expense report. Security research while collecting expense data; it doesn’t get better than that.

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Modified E-ZPass detects reads far from toll booths

Def Con speaker [pukingmonkey] has spent quite a bit of time studying methods government and law enforcement use to track private citizens’ vehicles on the roads. One of the major tracking methods is E-ZPass, an electronic toll collection system used in several states around the country. [pukingmonkey] cracked open his E-ZPass tag to find a relatively basic circuit. In his DEF CON presentation (PDF), he notes you shouldn’t do this to your own tag, as tags are legally not the property of the user.

The tag uses a 3.6 volt long life battery to operate. When idle, the tag only draws 8 microamps. During reads, current draw jumps to 0.3 mA. Armed with this information, it was relatively simple to add a current detecting circuit that outputs a pulse on tag reads. Pulses are then fed into a toy cow, which lights up and “Moos” on each read.

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