Physical Security Hack Chat With Deviant Ollam

Join us on Wednesday, June 3 at noon Pacific for the Physical Security Hack Chat with Deviant Ollam!

You can throw as many resources as possible into securing your systems — patch every vulnerability religiously, train all your users, monitor their traffic, eliminate every conceivable side-channel attack, or even totally air-gap your system — but it all amounts to exactly zero if somebody leaves a door propped open. Or if you’ve put a $5 padlock on a critical gate. Or if your RFID access control system is easily hacked. Ignore details like that and you’re just inviting trouble in.

Once the black-hats are on the inside, their job becomes orders of magnitude easier. Nothing beats hands-on access to a system when it comes to compromising it, and even if the attacker isn’t directly interfacing with your system, having him or her on the inside makes social engineering attacks that much simpler. System security starts with physical security, and physical security starts with understanding how to keep the doors locked.

join-hack-chatTo help us dig into that, Deviant Ollam will stop by the Hack Chat. Deviant works as a physical security consultant and he’s a fixture on the security con circuit and denizen of many lockpicking villages. He’s well-versed in what it takes to keep hardware safe from unauthorized visits or to keep it from disappearing entirely. From CCTV systems to elevator hacks to just about every possible way to defeat a locked door, Deviant has quite a bag of physical security tricks, and he’ll share his insights on keeping stuff safe in a dangerous world.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 3 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

A Robust ESP8266 RFID Access Control System

By now we’ve seen plenty of projects that use an ESP8266 as a form of rudimentary access control: tap a button on your smartphone, and the door to your apartment unlocks. With the power and flexibility of the ESP, it’s a very easy project to pull off with minimal additional hardware. But what about if you want to get a little more serious, and need to support many users?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, you might want to check out the extremely impressive ESP-RFID project. It’s still based on the ESP8266 we all know and love, but it combines the diminutive WiFi-enabled microcontroller with a nice custom PCB and some exceptionally slick software to create a very professional access control system without breaking the bank. As the name implies, the system is geared towards RFID authentication and supports readers such as the MFRC522, PN532 RFID, or RDM6300. Add in a stack of Mifare Classic 1KB cards, and your hackerspace is well on the way to getting a new door control system.

The official hardware for ESP-RFID can be purchased through Tindie with or without an installed ESP-12F module, but as it’s a fully open source project, you’re also free to build your own version if you’d like. In either event, the board allows you to easily connect the ESP up to your RFID reader of choice, as well as door sensors and of course the door locks themselves.

On the software side of things, ESP-RFID should be able to handle about 1000 unique users and their RFID cards before the relatively limited RAM and storage of the ESP catches up with it. But if you’ve got that many people coming and going in your hackerspace, it might be time to update your systems to begin with. Incidentally, the project makes no guarantees about the security of the ESP-RFID code, and says that the system shouldn’t be used for secure locations. That said, you can run ESP-RFID without an Internet connection to reduce your attack surface, at the cost of losing NTP time synchronization.

If you’re not managing a few hundred users and their RFID cards, one of the more simplistic ESP8266 door locks might be more your speed. We’ve also seen similar tricks pulled off with the Particle Photon, in case you’ve got one of those rattling around the parts bin.

CarontePass: Open Access Control For Your Hackerspace

A problem faced by all collaborative working spaces as they grow is that of access control. How can you give your membership secure access to the space without the cost and inconvenience of having a keyholder on site at all times.

[Torehc] is working on solving this problem with his CarontePass RFID access system, at the Kreitek Makerspace (Spanish, Google Translate link) in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Each door has a client with RFID readers, either a Raspberry Pi or an ESP8266, which  connects via WiFi to a Raspberry Pi 2 server running a Django-based REST API. This server has access to a database of paid-up members and their RFID keys, so can issue the command to the client to unlock the door. The system also supports the Telegram messaging service, and so can be queried as to whether the space is open and how many members are in at a particular time.

All the project’s resources are available on its GitHub repository, and there is a project blog (Spanish, Google Translate link) with more details.

This is a project that is still in active development, and [Torehc] admits that its security needs more work so is busy implementing HTTPS and better access security. As far as we can see through the fog of machine translation at the moment it relies on the security of its own encrypted WiFi network, so we’d be inclined to agree with him.

This isn’t the first hackerspace access system we’ve featured here. The MakerBarn in Texas has one using the Particle Photon, while the Lansing Makers Network in Michigan have an ingenious mechanism for their door, and the Nesit hackerspace in Connecticut has a very fancy system with video feedback. How does your space solve this problem?

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Getting Biometrics In Hand

It is amazing how quickly you get used to a car that starts as long as you have the key somewhere on your person. When you switch vehicles, it becomes a nuisance to fish the key out and insert it into the ignition. Biometrics aims to make it even easier. Why carry around a key (or an access card), if a computer can uniquely identify you?

[Alexis Ospitia] wanted to experiment with vein matching biometrics and had good results with a Raspberry Pi, a web cam, and a custom IR illumination system. Apparently, hemoglobin is a good IR reflector and the pattern of veins in your hand is as unique as other biometrics (like fingerprints, ear prints, and retina vein patterns). [Alexis’] post is in Spanish, but Google Translate does a fine job as soon as you realize that it thinks “fingerprint” is “footprint.” The software uses OpenCV, but we’ve seen the same thing done in MATLAB (see the video below).

Continue reading “Getting Biometrics In Hand”

Quick And Dirty RFID Door Locks Clean Up Nice

homemade RFID Door Locks

[Shawn] recently overhauled his access control by fitting the doors with some RFID readers. Though the building already had electronic switches in place, unlocking the doors required mashing an aging keypad or pestering someone in an adjacent office to press a button to unlock them for you. [Shawn] tapped into that system by running some wires up into the attic and connecting them to one of two control boxes, each with an ATMega328 inside. Everything functions as you would expect: presenting the right RFID card to the wall-mounted reader sends a signal to the microcontroller, which clicks an accompanying relay that drives the locks.

You may recall [Shawn’s] RFID phone tag hack from last month; the addition of the readers is the second act of the project. If you’re looking to recreate this build, you shouldn’t have any trouble sourcing the same Parallax readers or building out your own Arduino on a stick, either. Check out a quick walkthrough video after the jump.

Continue reading “Quick And Dirty RFID Door Locks Clean Up Nice”

Upgrade Your Garage Door With Arduino And RFID

RFID Garage Door Opener

[Jason] really wanted to build an RFID controlled garage door opener and decided to turn to Arduino to get the job done. For someone who’s never worked with an Arduino before, he really seemed to know what he was doing.

The Arduino acts as the brains of the operation while an off-the-shelf NFC/RFID reader module is used to read the RFID tags. To add new keys to the system, [Jason] simply swipes his “master” RFID key. An indicator LED lights up and a piezo speaker beeps, letting you know that the system is ready to read a new key. Once the new key is read, the address is stored on an EEPROM. From that point forward the new key is permitted to activate the system.

Whenever a valid key is swiped, the Arduino triggers a relay which can then be used to control just about anything. In this case, [Jason] plans to use it to control his garage door. The system also has a few manual controls. First is the reset button. If this button is held down for two seconds, all of the keys from the EEPROM are erased. This button would obviously only be available to people who are already inside the garage. There is also a DIP switch that allows the user to select how long the relay circuit should remain open. This is configurable in increments of 100ms.

For now the circuit is wired up on a couple of breadboards, but it might be a good idea to use something more permanent. [Jason] could always take it a step further and learn to etch his own PCB’s. Or he could even design a board in Eagle CAD and order a real printed board. Don’t miss the video description of the RFID system below. Continue reading “Upgrade Your Garage Door With Arduino And RFID”

Open Your Hackerspace Door With A Phone Call


[Mário] sent us a tip detailing the access control system he and his friends built for the eLab Hackerspace in Faro, Portugal. The space is located in the University of Algarve’s Institute of Engineering, which meant the group couldn’t exactly bore some holes through campus property and needed a clever solution to provide 24/7 access to members.

[Mário] quickly ruled out more advanced Bluetooth or NFC options, because he didn’t want to leave out members who did not have a smartphone. Instead, after rummaging around in some junk boxes, the gang settled on hacking an old Siemens C55 phone to serve as a GSM modem and to receive calls from members. The incoming numbers are then compared against a list on the EEPROM of an attached PIC16F88 microcontroller, which directs a motor salvaged from a tobacco vending machine to open the push bar on the front door. They had to set up the motor to move an arm in a motion similar to that of a piston, thus providing the right leverage to both unlock and reset the bar’s position.

Check out [Mário’s] blog for more details and information on how they upload a log of callers to Google spreadsheets, and stick around for a quick video demonstration below. If you’d prefer a more step by step guide to the build, head over to the accompanying Instructables page. Just be careful if you try to reproduce this hack with the Arduino GSM shield.

Continue reading “Open Your Hackerspace Door With A Phone Call”