Feeds

Google Wallet PIN security cracked in seconds

Luckily no one important is using it

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Update A researcher at website categoriser zvelo has discovered Google Wallet's PIN protection is open to a brute-force attack that takes seconds to complete. And Google is powerless to fix the problem, it seems.

The attack is limited to instances where physical access is available, or the phone has been previously "rooted" by the user. Once the assault succeeds the attacker can read the contents of the wallet details such as the transaction history*. Worse still, Google can't address the flaw without shifting responsibility for the PIN onto the banks, who might not want it.

Google Wallet uses Near Field Communications (NFC) a wireless technology so the user can make payments by bonking the phone onto a suitably equipped till. The Google Wallet provides a management interface to the cards stored on the system, and the bonk triggers an encrypted exchange of information between the card and the till authorising the payment.

That exchange remains secure, but when the user wants to edit their card details, or see their transaction history, they use Google Wallet which requires a 4-digit PIN, and it's that PIN which has proved vulnerable.

The chaps at zvelo noticed that the wallet application stores a hash of the PIN, and were thus able to create a matching PIN simply by hashing all 10,000 possible numbers - a process which only takes a few seconds as they've demonstrated on their video.

The hash files, which are accompanied by other data warranting further enquiry, are only available to other applications once a handset has been rooted - the Android OS keeps applications separated so this attack is limited to stolen phones or those rooted by their owners. The latter case is particularly concerning as it would, in theory, allow a rogue app to lift all the data remotely without the user being aware.

The problem, for Google, is that the obvious way to fix this is to move all the data into the secure element on the phone. The secure element is essential to NFC transactions, but falls under the legal responsibility of the payment processor - so moving the PIN into there would change the already complex legal architecture.

There's also the problem of which secure element the PIN would be attached to. Google's existing NFC devices support a secure element in the SIM (under the control of the network operator) as well as one embedded in the handset, and Google Wallet is supposed to provide a single interface to all the securely stored content.

So it looks like a fix won't be coming any time soon, which is bad news for those touting a rooted Google Nexus S, and using Google Wallet to pay for stuff, but unlikely to worry the rest of us immediately. ®

*The credit card numbers, however, cannot be read. Google has been in touch to say that the whole credit card number isn't displayed within the Wallet interface, so Google Wallet remains more secure than its physical equivalent.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Webcam hacker pervs in MASS HOME INVASION
You thought you were all alone? Nope – change your password, says ICO
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
Meet OneRNG: a fully-open entropy generator for a paranoid age
Kiwis to seek random investors for crowd-funded randomiser
USB coding anarchy: Consider all sticks licked
Thumb drive design ruled by almighty buck
Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm
Cisco Netflow a handy tool for cheapskate attackers
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.