Turning A Teensy Into A Better U2F Key

A few days ago, we saw a project that used a Teensy to build a Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) key. While this project was just an experiment in how to implement U2F on any ‘ol microcontroller, and the creator admitted it wasn’t very secure, the comments for that post said otherwise: “making your own thing is the ONLY way to be secure,” read the comments.

In a stunning turn of events, writing comments on a blog post doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. It turns out, to perform a security analysis of a system, you need to look at the code. Shocking, yes, but [makomk] took a good, hard look at the code and found it was horribly broken.

The critical error of the Teensy U2F key crypto is simply how U2F is performed. During authentication, the device sends the U2F key handle to whatever service is trying to authenticating it. Because the key in the Teensy implementation is only ‘encrypted’ with XOR, it only takes 256 signing requests to recover the private key.

The original experimentation with using the Teensy as a U2F key was an educational endeavor, and it was never meant to be used by anyone. The attack on this small lesson in security is interesting, though, and [makomk] wrote a proof of concept that demonstrates his attack. This could be used to perform attacks from a remote server, but hopefully that won’t happen, because the original code should never be used in the wild.