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Dutch university can publish controversial Oyster research

Freedom of speech trumps all

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Dutch researchers will be able to publish their controversial report on the Mifare Classic (Oyster) RFID chip in October, a Dutch judge ruled today.

Researchers from Radboud University in Nijmegen revealed two weeks ago they had cracked and cloned London's Oyster travelcard and the Dutch public transportation travelcard, which is based on the same RFID chip. Attackers can scan a card reading unit, collect the cryptographic key that protects security and upload it to a laptop. Details are then transferred to a blank card, which can be used for free travel.

Around one billion of these cards have been sold worldwide. The card is also widely used to gain access to government departments, schools and hospitals around Britain.

Chipmaker NXP - formerly Philips Semiconductors - had taken Radboud University to court to prevent researchers publishing their controversial report on the chip during a the European computer security conference in Spain this autumn. Spokesperson for NXP Martijn van der Linden said that publishing the report would be "irresponsible" - understandably, the company fears criminals will be able to attack Mifare Classic-based systems.

However, the judge today ruled that freedom of speech outweighs the commercial interest of NXP, as "the publication of scientific studies carries a lot of weight in a democratic society".

The researchers have always said they don't intend to include details of how to clone the card and that publications could prevent similar errors occurring in the future. NXP says it is disappointed with the ruling. ®

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