Dutch government gags Oyster researchers
Don’t kill the messenger
The publication of a scientific paper by Radboud University that discusses design flaws of the MIFARE chip in cards such as the Oyster travelcard may be in jeopardy. Dutch secretary of state Tineke Huizinga has urged the university not to publish any secrets that may lead to abuse.
Last week researchers from Radboud University in Nijmegen revealed they had cracked and cloned London's Oyster travel card. Earlier this year the researchers did the same to the Dutch MIFARE travel card. As a result, the introduction of the €1bn transport payment system in the Netherlands has now been postponed.
The Dutch researchers were planning to publish their scientific paper, appropriately named Dismantling MIFARE Classic, at the European Computer Security Conference Esorics in October, but secretary of state Huizinga has called upon the university to exercise responsibility. Radboud is now declining any media request that specifically addresses the vulnerabilities of the MIFARE chip.
Researcher Bart Jacobs admits that the issue is sensitive, but doesn't believe the publication will threaten present installments of the cards. "A mathematical analysis is not the same thing as writing attack code," Jacobs says in an internal memo. "It requires a lot of expert work to transform the analysis from the Esorics paper into a working device for performing attacks on card installations."
However, he warned that other groups may already have started writing tools and released them on the net.
"Killing the messenger does not solve the problem," Jacobs says. "This paper serves the interest of our society. The problems are real and should be addressed on the basis of sound and well-informed judgment." ®
Sorry, real world, universities usually only get to publish freely because they don't publish stuff that obviously treads on other people's toes. The professor in charge should have known better than to devise a real world attack on a real world system. Also, a bad idea to invent an attack without also devising a workable solution.
I should know, I got told off for even contemplating researching a topic that would be ultimately unpublishable - real world! The same subject could however be studied in abstract quite freely.
He would have been better directing his students to build an abstract model and a lab simulation, demonstrating the attack and also one or more solutions, and making the implications known to those who needed. In private, of course, he could offer a real world demo and solution and make his coterie a bit of dosh in the process. But you can't real world expect to be allowed or praised for publicly a) humiliating and b) threatening or even appearing to threaten a commercial company with a system that has a security flaw, particularly if a big government contract is riding on it.
Paris, because even she was realistic enough to know that you can't ultimately stop publication of results, but you can make money from it.
is that anything like a Dutch Lobster :)
@ AC above
IIRC they were intending to (possibly have) release the research to NXP so they could look at it before they released it publicly.
The solution is simple but costly DON'T USE MIFARE CLASSIC, not only does it use a badly designed proprietary algorithm but an easily manipulated PRNG and ends up with an effective key length of 32-bits, the only thing preventing someone bruteforcing the cards is the reader chips which IIRC (been a while since I read the data) have rate limiting, reverse the protocol and emulate it with an OpenPICC and you're done.
Again, it's been a while but I believe that the standard reader chips from NXP support DESFire cards out of the box, just need a software update to turn the capability on and phase out the MiFARE classic and replace it with MiFARE DESFire, granted 3DES ain't what it used to be but it's peer-reviewed and has a hell of a lot larger keyspace than CRYPTO1 (If it's good enough for ATM's it ought to be good enough for public transport ticketing).
The scary thing is MiFARE classic is still more secure than the products of a few well known proximity access card manufacturers...