RFID-hack hits 1 billion digital access cards worldwide

Criminals can use the hack to create copies of building access keys or commit identity theft

The Dutch government has issued a warning about the security of access keys that are based on the widely used Mifare Classic RFID chip.

Government institutions plan to take "additional security measures to safeguard security, " Guusje ter Horst, minister of interior affairs, wrote in a letter to the Dutch parliament this week.

NXP developed the Mifare Classic RFID (radio frequency identification) chip, which is used in 2 million Dutch building access passes, said ter Horst. One billion passes with the technology have been distributed worldwide, making the security risk a global problem. A spokesperson for the ministry told Webwereld, an IDG affiliate, that it had not yet notified other countries.

The warning comes in a week when two research teams independently demonstrated hacks of the chip's security algorithm.

On Monday, German researchers Karsten Nohl and Henryk Plotz, who first hacked parts of the chip last December, published a paper demonstrating a way to crack the chip's encryption technology. The duo declined to publicly demonstrate their hack. "We want to start a discussion first, allowing people to adjust or abandon their systems," Nohl told Webwereld last week. He added that he would provide a demonstration before June.

On Wednesday, Bart Jacobs, an information security professor at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, demonstrated a hack of the chip's security encryption. Jacobs had notified the security service prior to going public, which has since confirmed the hack. A video demonstration of the hack is scheduled for publication on Wednesday.

Criminals can use the hack to clone cards that use the Mifare Classic chip, allowing them to create copies of building access keys or commit identity theft.

The chip is used in payment systems worldwide, such as the Oyster Card in the UK and the CharlieCard that is used in Boston. Both offer payment systems that allow for wireless transactions.

In the Netherlands, the Mifare Classic chip has been at the center of a national controversy since Nohl and Plotz first published their findings at the Chaos Computer Camp in Berlin last December.

The chip is the basis of a national proof-of-payment system for public transport. A recently published government-issued study by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research dismissed the potential security threat, claiming that hackers would take at least two years to crack the security codes.

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Tom Sanders

WebWereld Netherlands
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