Hacking When it Counts: Prison Locksmithing

In 1978, Tim Jenkin was a man living on borrowed time, and he knew it. A white South African in his late 20s, he had been born into the apartheid system of brutally enforced racial segregation. By his own admission, he didn’t even realize in his youth that apartheid existed — it was just a part of his world. But while traveling abroad in the early 1970s he began to see the injustice of the South African political system, and spurred on by what he learned, he became an activist in the anti-apartheid underground.

Intent on righting the wrongs he saw in his homeland, he embarked on a year of training in London. He returned to South Africa as a propaganda agent with the mission to spread anti-apartheid news and information to black South Africans. His group’s distribution method of choice was a leaflet bomb, which used a small explosive charge to disperse African National Congress propaganda in public places. Given that the ANC was a banned organization, and that they were setting off explosives in a public place, even though they only had a few grams of gunpowder, it was inevitable that Jenkin would be caught. He and cohort Steven Lee were arrested, tried and convicted;  Jenkin was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Lee got eight.

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33C3: Breaking IoT Locks

Fast-forward to the end of the talk, and you’ll hear someone in the audience ask [Ray] “Are there any Bluetooth locks that you can recommend?” and he gets to answer “nope, not really.” (If this counts as a spoiler for a talk about the security of three IoT locks at a hacker conference, you need to get out more.)

btle_lockUnlocking a padlock with your cellphone isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The promise of Internet-enabled locks is that they can allow people one-time use or limited access to physical spaces, as easily as sending them an e-mail. Unfortunately, it also opens up additional attack surfaces. Lock making goes from being a skill that involves clever mechanical design and metallurgy, to encryption and secure protocols.

master_jtagIn this fun talk, [Ray] looks at three “IoT” locks. One, he throws out on mechanical grounds once he’s gotten it open — it’s a $100 lock that’s as easily shimmable as that $4 padlock on your gym locker. The other, a Master lock, has a new version of a 2012 vulnerability that [Ray] pointed out to Master: if you move a magnet around the outside the lock, it actuates the motor within, unlocking it. The third, made by Kickstarter company Noke, was at least physically secure, but fell prey to an insecure key exchange protocol.

Along the way, you’ll get some advice on how to quickly and easily audit your own IoT devices. That’s worth the price of admission even if you like your keys made out of metal instead of bits. And one of the more refreshing points, given the hype of some IoT security talks these days, was the nuanced approach that [Ray] took toward what counts as a security problem because it’s exploitable by someone else, rather than vectors that are only “exploitable” by the device’s owner. We like to think of those as customization options.

Lock picking and security disclosure


Slate is running an interesting article about taking new security approaches to lock vulnerabilities. In the past, lock makers such as Medeco have been able to quietly update their product lines to strengthen their security, but as movements such as Locksport International gain popularity and lock picking videos on YouTube become dime a dozen, lock makers can no longer rely on security through obscurity. It’s no question that an increased interest in this field helps lock manufacturers to create more secure products, but because patching these flaws often means changing critical features of the lock, it becomes a very expensive game of cat-and-mouse.

Traditional lock picking has employed the use of picksets, like the credit card sized set given out sold at The Last HOPE, but more recent methods of lock hacking have used bump keys or even magnets. However, as manufacturers make their locks less susceptible to picking and bumping, not even high-security locks will ward off someone determined enough to create a copy of the key, either by observing the original or using impressioning, as [Barry Wels] covered in a recent talk at HOPE 2008.