Feeds

Bank-card PINs 'wide open' to insider attack

Crackers

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Security researchers have highlighted how corrupt bank insiders might be able to obtain bank card PINs using as little as one or two guesses.

The flaw, which involves the way ATM PINs are encrypted and transmitted across international financial networks (by switches), is far more severe than previous attacks which created a means for insiders to crack PINs using around 15 guesses. By design, it shouldn't be possible to guess a four-digit pin in less than an average of 5,000 attempts.

Israeli academics Omer Berkman and Odelia Moshe Ostrovsky have published a paper, titled The Unbearable Lightness of PIN Cracking (PDF), which explains how the processing system used by banks is open to abuse. One of the attacks targets the translate function in switches. Another abuses functions that are used to allow customers to select their PINs online.

In either case, the flaws create a means for an attacker to discover PIN codes, for example, those entered by customers while withdrawing cash from an ATM providing they have access to the online PIN verification facility or switching processes.

“A bank insider could use an existing Hardware Security Module (HSM) to reveal the encrypted PIN codes and exploit them to make fraudulent transactions, or to fabricate cards whose PIN codes are different than the PIN codes of the legitimate cards, and yet all of the cards will be valid at the same time," said Ostrovsky, researcher at Tel Aviv University who also works for local security firm Algorithmic Research. “Even worse, an insider of a third-party Switching provider could attack a bank outside of his territory or even in another continent".

The authors have passed on their research to credit card firm and banks, with little response, prompting their decision to go public with the problem.

"One of the most disturbing aspects of the attack is that you're only as secure as the most untrusted bank on the network. Instead of just having to trust your own issuer bank that they have good security against insider fraud, you have to trust every other financial institution on the network as well. An insider at another bank can crack your ATM PIN if you withdraw money from any of the other bank's ATMs," writes security guru Bruce Schneier in a posting on the issue on his security blog. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Tor attack nodes RIPPED MASKS off users for 6 MONTHS
Traffic confirmation attack bared users' privates - but to whom?
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.