Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/06/defcon_final/

The romance and mystery of a good hack

Plus an actual wedding

By Wendy M. Grossman

Posted in Security, 6th August 2007 09:08 GMT

DefCon Blog: Final The 2007 Defcon badge (currently selling on eBay for $202.50) came with its own SDK, which explains why, by Sunday, a couple of attendees had hacked theirs to play music from their iPods.

They were two of some 50 contest winners, of whom the most tired – and wired – were the 20 person team who spent 22.5 hours solving the "mystery box" (the hack required knowledge of cryptography, electronics, lockpicking, literature, and rotary phones).

Scottish Defcon staffer Zac Franken wowed everyone with his work on building access control systems. While everyone is focusing on the extra security afforded by biometrics over magnetic stripes, they're overlooking the fact that many of these systems rely on the aging but widely used Wiegand protocol.

Franken showed up with a screwdriver and a specially wired plug smaller than a USB key. Remove plastic cover. Remove two screws. Cut wires. Insert the cut ends into Franken's plug. Close it back up. And presto, Franken can intercept all the system's commands and use cards he has prepared to replay the last successful user, disable the system, re-enable it, and, in the next version, download all valid users (up to the storage capacity of the plug). These systems are in use in airports as well as buildings, by the way.

The only solution, Franken says, is to replace the protocol, which sounds like almost as massive an undertaking as convincing the European authorities to listen to some security people before letting loose RFID passports.

German researcher Lukas Grunwald has been trying to explain to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the European authorities that the format they have chosen for images, JPEG2000, is easy to exploit.

"It's nothing to do with IT security," he was told. "These are security documents." But, he said, these systems are running on Windows XP...

It ought, he thinks, to be possible for a sufficiently motivated traveller to alter the database of acceptable travellers while the passport is being read. The system design is, he said, like going to an ATM, putting in the card, getting the cash – and only then putting in a PIN for checking.

"Cool, isn't it?"

There is, to be sure, plenty of motivation for such things. Peter Gutmann, of the University of Auckland, estimates, from substantial research, that an Eastern European programmer can earn $200,000 a year from writing really clever malware. Today's viruses value stealth so much that they download anti-virus software and remove their competitors. They only want one thing: money.

Gutmann proposed no solution, but the methods Nick Mathewson laid out for social attacks on anonymous networks might be promising (Mathewson is a programmer for the TOR anonymous network). Briefly, the strategy is: "Let's you and him fight." Perhaps organised crime can be distracted by religious wars over which are the best servers.

In the meantime, Defcon closed out for 2007 by marrying off US Treasury special agent Andrew Fried to federal agent Laura Askey. Mazel Tov. ®