Black Hat organizers punt totally hackable RFID badges

Clone me, please


Black Hat The annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas has become one of the premier venues for exposing lax security practices that put the unwashed masses at risk. In an interesting twist, a researcher is calling out conference organizers for supplying 4,500 attendees with an RFID-enabled badge that has widely known security weaknesses.

The badges use the Mifare Classic, a wireless card whose encryption protection is so weak that its identification key, which is supposed to remain top-secret, can be cracked in a matter of minutes using fairly inexpensive tools. Hackers could use the pilfered key to impersonate other attendees by cloning their badges. It's the first time in Black Hat's 12-year history that badges have included a radio frequency identification component.

"I find it shocking to see Mifare Classic cards being used at the largest security conference in the world, now that we are heavy into the discussion about these cards' security or rather the lack thereof," said Karsten Nohl, the University of Virginia grad student who helped discover the defect in the widely used card.

The new Black Hat badges are intended as a way for attendees to wirelessly zap their contact information to vendors flogging their wares and services at the show. No need to exchange business cards. Just let the vendor swipe the card and an attendee's contact information is downloaded from a back-end database.

It's by no means the first time someone has been bitten by the Mifare's shoddy encryption. Military installations around the world and transit agencies in the Netherlands, London, Boston and elsewhere are all grappling with the prospect that their cards - bestsellers on the RFID market - are open to cloners or snoops. NXP Semiconductor, the maker of the Mifare Classic, says it's sold about two billion of the cards.

To be fair to Black Hat organizers, the badges don't store attendees' personal information, so even if someone cracks a card, no one's privacy is compromised. That said, would it have broken the Black Hat bank for organizers to spend just a little more for a card that isn't so easily hacked? The DESfire card, which is also manufactured by NXP, costs a little more, but as far as anyone knows, it's secure. What a concept. ®

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