Feeds

Meter insecurity raises specter of free parking hacks

Cloned card could allow unlimited parking

The essential guide to IT transformation

Black Hat Hackers have figured out a way to trick San Francisco's computerized parking meter system into giving away unlimited free parking by cloning the smart cards used to pay fees.

Speaking at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, hackers Jacob Appelbaum, Joe Grand and Chris Tarnovsky said they were able to compromise the system by monitoring the communications that occur between the electronic meters and the smart cards. They were then able to carry out what's known as a replay attack, in which the communications were repeated on their own blank smart cards.

"We own the San Francisco parking meter system," Appelbaum said in an interview with El Reg. "They clearly did not do enough due diligence if at all from a security perspective. The idea that someone is not already exploiting it is sort of laughable."

During their 75-minute talk, the team showed a picture of a cloned smart card in one of the San Francisco parking meters. It's value: $999.99. The team was careful to say they never actually used any of the stored credit to pay for parking.

The hack is only the latest to highlight vulnerabilities in a new generation of electronic payment systems that collect parking fees and bus and train fares. Parking meters in New York were compromised in 2001 using infrared remote controls, and three years later weaknesses in stored-value cards used by San Diego were exposed by a hacker who goes by the name H1kari.

Last year, three undergrads from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology uncovered critical vulnerabilities in electronic fare-payment systems used by Boston's mass transit system, but were prevented from speaking about them during the Defcon hacker conference.

The process used to hack the San Francisco system was fairly straightforward and took only three days to devise. It involved using an off-the-shelf smart-card shim, and monitoring what happened using an oscilloscope. The team then analyzed the data using pen and paper and wrote a program that would repeat the process with programmable smart cards they bought off the internet.

The smart cards work in McKay Guardian XLE meters, which can accept either coins or electronic payments. Many other cities use the same model parking meters, but because of differences in the way they are configured, the team couldn't say whether the technique they used would work outside of San Francisco.

Parking meter displaying smart card balance of $999.99

The researchers said they gained valuable insights into the meter's inner workings by purchasing them on eBay and watching how they functioned. They said their research was intended to expose weaknesses that could cost San Francisco taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue, and not to enable people to actually carry out the attacks.

They plan to release the source code for their replay software but will modify important bits to prevent script kiddies from using it to get free parking. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
Think crypto hides you from spooks on Facebook? THINK AGAIN
Traffic fingerprints reveal all, say boffins
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.