Defeating Chip and PIN With Bits of Wire

One of many ways that Americans are ridiculed by the rest of the world is that they don’t have chip and PIN on their credit cards yet; US credit card companies have been slow to bring this technology to millions of POS terminals across the country. Making the transition isn’t easy because until the transition is complete, the machines have to accept both magnetic stripes and chip and PIN.

This device can disable chip and PIN, wirelessly, by forcing the downgrade to magstripe. [Samy Kamkar] created the MagSpoof to explore the binary patterns on the magnetic stripe of his AmEx card, and in the process also created a device that works with drivers licenses, hotel room keys, and parking meters.

magspoofThe electronics for the MagSpoof are incredibly simple. Of course a small microcontroller is necessary for this build, and for the MagSpoof, [Samy] used the ATtiny85 for the ‘larger’ version (still less than an inch square). A smaller, credit card-sized version used an ATtiny10. The rest of the schematic is just an H-bridge and a coil of magnet wire – easy enough for anyone with a soldering iron to put together on some perfboard.
By pulsing the H-bridge and energizing the coil of wire, the MagSpoof emulates the swipe of a credit card – it’s all just magnetic fields reversing direction in a very particular pattern. Since the magnetic pattern on any credit card can be easily read, and [Samy] demonstrates that this is possible with some rust and the naked eye anyway, it’s a simple matter to clone a card by building some electronics.

[Samy] didn’t stop there, though. By turning off the bits that state that the card has a chip onboard, his device can bypass the chip and PIN protection. If you’re very careful with a magnetized needle, you could disable the chip and PIN protection on any credit card. [Samy]’s device doesn’t need that degree of dexterity – he can just flip a bit in the firmware for the MagSpoof. It’s all brilliant work, and although the code for the chip and PIN defeat isn’t included in the repo, the documents that show how that can be done exist.

[Samy]’s implementation is very neat, but it stands on the shoulders of giants. In particular, we’ve covered similar devices before (here and here, for instance) and everything that you’ll need for this hack except for the chip-and-PIN-downgrade attack are covered in [Count Zero]’s classic 1992 “A Day in the Life of a Flux Reversal“.

Thanks [toru] for sending this one in. [Samy]’s video is available below.

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Smart Cards Used To Hack Smart Cards

Back in the day, true hackers – the kind that would build VCRs out of 555 chips only to end up in the Hackaday comments section in their twilight years – would steal satellite TV feeds with the help of tiny little microcontrollers embedded in a credit card. This was the wild west, when a parallel port was the equivalent of a six-shooter and Jnco jeans were a ten gallon hat.

The backdoors that enabled these satellite pirates have long been closed, but these devices for stealing HBO have now evolved into stealing €600,000 worth of goods using a most unlikely source: chip and pin card terminals. A gang of criminals in Belgium have successfully broken chip and pin, and although the exploit has now been closed, the researchers behind the investigation have published their war story for one of the most interesting hacks in recent memory.

Chip and pin verification for Point of Sale (PoS) transactions are a relatively simple process; during a transaction, the PoS system asks for the user’s PIN and transmits it to the card. The card then simply answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In 2010, a vulnerability to this system was discovered, making it a simple matter for anyone to break chip and pin systems. This system used an FPGA with a backpack worth of modified hardware – executing it in a store would raise more than a few eyebrows.

The 2010 exploit hardware
The 2010 exploit hardware

The problem of implementing this system into something that was easily concealable was simply a matter of miniaturization. Thanks to the proliferation of smart cards over the last 20 years, very tiny microcontrollers are available that could manage this man-in-the-middle attack on a chip and pin system. What is a gang of criminals to do? Simply program a smart card with all the smarts required to pull of the hack, of course.

To pull off this exploit, an engineer in the gang of criminals used a FUNcard, a development platform for smart cards loaded up with an Atmel AVR AT90S8515 microcontroller and an EEPROM packaged in a small golden square. By removing the chip from this chipped card and replacing the chip in a stolen credit card, the criminals were able to reproduce the 2010 exploit in the wild, netting them €600,000 in stolen merchandise before they were caught.

How were they caught? The ‘buyer’ of the gang kept shopping at the same place. Rookie mistake, but once security researchers got their hands on this illegal hardware, they were amazed at what they found. Not only did the engineer responsible for this manage to put the code required for the exploit in an off-the-shelf smart card, the gold contact pads from the original credit card were rewired to the new microcontroller in an amazing feat of rework soldering.

Before this exploit was made public, the researchers developed a countermeasure for this attack that was swiftly installed in PoS terminals. They also came up with a few additional countermeasures that can be deployed in the future, just in case. In any event, it’s an amazing bit of reverse engineering, soldering, and craftsmanship that went into this crime spree, and as usual, it only took a massive loss for retailers to do anything about it.