Trusted Platform Module based cryptography protects your secrets as well as your government’s secrets. Well, it used to. [Christopher Tarnovsky] figured out how to defeat the hardware by spying on its communications. This requires physical access so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds, but this does reach beyond TPM to many of the security chips made by Infineon. This includes peripheral security chips for Xbox 360 and some chips used in cell phones and satellite TV.
[Christopher] revealed his hack during his presentation at Black Hat 2010. The method is wicked-hard, involving removal of the chip’s case and top layer, then tapping into a data bus to get at unencrypted data. The chip still has some tricks up its sleeve and includes firmware traps that keep a look out for this type of attack, shutting down if it’s detected. Infineon commented that they knew this was possible but regard it as a low threat due to the high skill level necessary for success.
We ran into a friend a while back who was logging into her employer’s Virtual Private Network on the weekend. She caught our attention by whipping out her keys and typing in some information from a key-fob. It turns out that her work uses an additional layer of protection for logging into the network. They have implemented a username, pin number, as well as a hardware token system called SecurID.
The hardware consists of a key-fob with an LCD screen on it. A code is displayed on the screen and changes frequently, usually every 60 seconds. The device is generating keys based on a 128-bit encryption seed. When this number is fed to a server that has a copy of that seed, it is used as an additional verification to the other login data.
This seems like a tech trickle-down of the code generating device from GoldenEye. It does get us thinking: with the problems free email services have been having with account theft, why aren’t they offering a fee-based service that includes a security fob? With the right pricing structure this could be a nice stream of income for the provider. We’re also wondering if this can be implemented with a microcontroller and used in our home network. As always, leave comments below and let us know if you’ve already built your own system using these principles.
Update: Thanks to Andre for his comment that tells us this type of security is available for Apache servers. The distribution includes a server side authentication system and a Java based token generator that can run on any handheld that supports Java.