Feeds

Boffins deduce chip's crypto just by looking at it

Smartcard hacking enters script-kiddie phase

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Black Hat Hackers have released tools that unlock the software stored on heavily fortified chips so researchers can independently assess their security and spot weaknesses.

At the heart of the the release, which was announced Wednesday at the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas, is Degate, software developed by Martin Schobert for hardware experts to analyze small silicon structures. It has recently been refined so it can be used by amateurs to analyze chips the size of smartcards.

The tools are the work of cryptographer Karsten Nohl and hardware hacker Christopher Tarnovsky, who are both veteran reverse engineers of extremely sophisticated smart chips.

In 2008, Nohl and a team of colleagues cracked the encryption of the widely used Mifare Classic smartcard after physically dissecting its circuitry and analyzing it with a microscope and optical recognition software. The 18-month task uncovered a proprietary algorithm on one of the chips generated cryptographically weak outputs that allowed attackers to break or clone an individual card in just minutes.

And last year, Tarnovsky cracked the Infineon SLE 66PE one of the most locked-down chips ever put into a consumer device, through a grueling six-month process that involved an electron microscope, microscopic needles, and a steady supply of microcontrollers bought on the surplus market in Hong Kong.

“We found a way now to give everybody the ability to extract software out of smartcards,” Nohl, who is chief scientist at Berlin-based Security Research Labs, told The Register. Degate “can be used by less skilled people, but the results are even more expressive than they were before.”

He estimated that had Degate existed in its current form then, it would have taken a few weeks to reverse engineer the Mifare card.

He compared Degate to disassembler software used by researchers to analyze hundreds of thousands of lines of binary code to figure out how it works.

“Degate is essentially a disassembler in the hardware world,” Nohl said.

The software recognizes structures on chips, traces the connections between them, and pieces together the algorithms implemented by the circuits.

Nohl said the tools are intended to make it easier for software experts to assess the security of chips stored on credit cards and other types of smartcards.

“These smartcards are being abused today for storing proprietary protocols and keeping them away from independent analysis,” he said. “We want to help the software hackers to find more interesting software for analysis.” ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Know what Ferguson city needs right now? It's not Anonymous doxing random people
U-turn on vow to identify killer cop after fingering wrong bloke
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
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
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.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.