High-security electronic safes can be hacked through power and timing analysis

Researcher shows that variations in voltage and execution times can expose the correct access codes for electronic safe locks

Some consumer safes protected with electronic locks are quite easy to hack using basic techniques. Others, though, like those made to store guns, are designed to resist expert manipulation.

However, one hacker demonstrated at the DEF CON security conference Friday that even high-security rated electronic safe locks are susceptible to side-channel attacks typically used against cryptosystems.

Side-channel attacks involve techniques like analyzing power fluctuations and variations in the time it takes operations to complete on an electronic device. By monitoring these values when the system checks the user's input against a stored value, attackers can incrementally recover encryption keys or, in the case of electronic safe locks, the correct access code.

Plore, the hacker who demonstrated two such attacks at DEF CON, is an embedded software developer with a background in electrical engineering. One of his targets was the Sargent and Greenleaf 6120, an older electronic safe lock from the late '90s that's still being sold and certified as highly secure by UL, an international safety certification company. The second target was a newer lock from 2006 called the Sargent and Greenleaf Titan PivotBolt.

Plore tapped the power wires between the S&G 6120 keypad and the electronic lock mechanism inside the safe. By doing so, he was able to see fluctuations in the flow of electrical current when the lock extracted the correct six-digit access code from memory in order to compare it to the code entered by the user. He showed that an attacker could recover the correct code by entering an incorrect code on the keypad while performing power analysis on the device.

The Titan PivotBolt lock was somewhat more difficult to defeat, and it required a combination of a brute force attack implemented through a custom made device, as well as power analysis and timing analysis. It also required cutting the power after a guess attempt in order to prevent the lock from incrementing a counter that would enforce a 10-minute delay after five failed attempts.

While many consumer electronic safe locks are likely vulnerable to these attacks, there are other much more expensive locks designed to prevent side-channel techniques.

There is a U.S. federal standard for high-security locks approved by the General Services Administration for securing classified documents, materials, equipment, and weapons. This standard specifically defends against these attacks, Plore said.

Burglars won't bother with power analysis to open consumer safes and are more likely to use a crowbar, but the researcher believes these techniques might also be applicable to other software-based lockout systems, like those in phones or cars.

Earlier this year, the FBI sought a court order to force Apple to help it break into the locked iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California. After Apple refused and challenged the order, the FBI bought an unspecified exploit from a third-party that allowed it to bypass the PIN lock and the safety mechanism designed to erase the phone's contents after a number of invalid PIN entries.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags black hat

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?