Category Archive: Smartcard

Nov 23 2015

Attackers are smart

In 2010, Steven MURDOCH, Ross ANDERSON, and their team disclosed a weakness in the EMV protocol. Most Credit / Debit card equipped with a chip use the EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) protocol. The vulnerability enabled to bypass the authentication phase for a given category of transactions. The card does not condition transaction authorization on successful cardholder verification. At the time of disclosure, Ross’s team created a Proof Of Concept using an FPGA. The device was bulky. Thus, some people minored the criticality.

The team of David NACCACHE recently published an interesting paper disclosing an exemplary work on a real attack exploiting this vulnerability: “when organized crime applies academic results.” The team performed a non-destructive forensic analysis of forged smart cards that exploited this weakness. The attacker combined in a plastic smart card the chip of a stolen EMV card (in green on the picture) and an other smart card chip FUN. The FUN chip acted like a man in the middle attack. It intercepted the communication between the Point of Sales (PoS) and the actual EMV chip. The FUN chip filtered out the VerifyPIN commands. The EMV card did not verify the PIN and thus was not blocked in case of the presentation of wrong PINs. On the other side, the FUN chip acknowledged the PIN for the PoS which continues the fraudulent transaction.

Meanwhile, the PoS have been updated to prevent this attack.

This paper is an excellent example of forensics analysis as well as responsible disclosure. The paper was published after the problem was solved in the field. It discloses an example of a new potential class of attacks: Chip in The Middle.

Law 1: Attackers will always find their way. Moreover, they even read academic publications and use them.

Feb 22 2013

Murdoch’s pirates

images   In 2008, I wrote a post about “Big Gun”, a hacker who was supposed to have worked for NDS to hack competitors.  It followed a suite of lawsuits against News.

This was only a small portion of the large picture of NDS story.  With Murdoch’s pirates, Neil Chenoweth has just published a detailed description of how NDS acted to “keep ahead” of its competitors.  And the story is as good as a good spying book.  The difference is that this is real.  And unlike in Hollywood movies, morale does not win.

You will discover the dark side of News and NDS. The book is not technical (there are even some inaccuracies).  But the story is based on all the documents that were published during the multiple trials.

I do not like the style of the author.  Despite he uses real information, he is not objective and takes clearly position.  Furthermore, the two first sections are not following a linear narrations.  This makes the introduction of the “heroes” of this book difficult to follow.  Nevertheless, if you are working, or have worked, with Conditional Access providers, you will be thrilled by the book.

From the personal view, as I have met several of the early actors of this book, while we were designing videocrypt, it was a strange experience to discover very dark parts of some of them.   I was not naïve, nevertheless it was worst than my darkest assumptions.


CA guys, read this book.

Oct 04 2012

SHA-3 is born

In 2005, the first serious attacks on the widely use hash function SHA-1 were published.  Researchers were able to generate some collisions.   The new generation SHA-2 was also prone to these attacks.  In 2007, NIST launched a contest to select the future replacing algorithm.  At the first round, there were 63 submissions.  The second round kept only five algorithms.   On Tuesday, NIST published the winner: KECCAK

KECCAK was designed by researchers from STMicroelectronics and NXP.  According to NIST, KECCAK won because it was elegantly simple and had higher performance in hardware implementation than the other competitors.  As it is foreseen that SHA-3  may be used in many lite weight embedded devices (smart dust, intelligent captors, RFID…) , this was a strong asset.  No surprise that its implementation was optimized for hardware; Its four fathers are working for companies designing such chipset.  STMicroelectronics is one of the leaders in secure components for smart cards, whereas NXP is the leader in NFC.  Another interesting argument is as KECCAK uses totally different principles than SHA-2, attacks that would work on SHA-2, most likely will not work for SHA-3.

On September 24, 2012, Bruce Schneier, one of the five finalists with his Skein algorithm, called for a “no award”.  Currently, SHA-512 is still secure for many years.  Thus,according to him, there was no need to switch to another algorithm.

In its announcement of the winner, NIST confirmed that

SHA-2 has held up well and NIST considers SHA-2 to be secure and suitable for general use.

Thus, be not afraid when you will still find SHA-2 in designs for the coming years.  We’re safe.  It will take several years to tame this new algorithm.  Nevertheless, NIST estimates that having a successor to SHA-2, if ever it weakens, is a good insurance policy.

Jul 16 2012

Notes on PST 2012: (day 1: Innovation day)

Here are some notes on the first day of  PST2012.  These notes are personal and biased in the sense that they reflect what topics did ping me.  As such, they are not exhaustively representing the content of the various presentations.

Today’s challenges of cybercrime (E. FREYSSINET)

Eric is the head of the cyber crime department of French gendarmerie.  As such, he has a deep knowledge of today’s cybercrime as he is fighting it.

He first presented the big trends and issues:

  • Data to analyze is exploding
  • Organized crime;  interestingly, organized crime entered the game only lately.  The target that attracted organized crime was car theft that required electronic specialist due to increased electronic defense;  then, organized crime jumped to electronic money.
  • Cryptography becomes more generalized.  It has impact.  for instance, house search has to occur at a time of the day when the computer is already switched on.

Then he described more some cases.  A few excerpt:

  • Crime against children; This is one of the most important threat handled by his team (25% of the cases).  Several hundreds cases per year in France.   The best defense is the education of children
  • Attacks on IT system;  Botnets become the core element of many IT attacks.  Often individuals do the tools, and are hired by organization that install such infrastructure.   Interestingly, many SMEs are attacking each others!
  • There is a real business approach behind such crime.  Carders are offering professional sites with customer supports.  Malware is sold with a licensing approach, CMS,…

Then he presented a typical attack: the police ransomware.  A malware blocks the computer, sometimes encrypts data and display a message supposed to be issued by police claiming that you violated the law and have to pay a fine.  10% of the infected people pay the alleged fine.

Cyber Defense

Can we protect against the unknown?  (D. BIZEUL, Cassidian, Head of Security Assurance)

The focus of the presentation is on APT (Advanced Persistent Threat)

The six steps of APT:

  1. Information gathering
  2. Vulnerability identification
  3. Spear phishing/RAT installation
  4. Pass the hash protection/ propagation (for escalation)
  5. Malware and pack of tools
  6. Exfiltration

Detection of steps 3 to 6 should use reputation evaluation, Statistics and of course log.  Thus, it is recommended to have savvy IT team, cyber intelligence, IDS/IPS and SIEM & SOC.  Cyber intelligence is key.

CERT, CSIRT  (O. CALEFF, Devoteam)

Presentation of what a CERT/CSIRT is , and how it works.

Cyber defense tools: the sourcefire example (Y. LE BORGNE)

He explains how an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) works:

  • Stage 1:  decoder of packets
  • Stage 2: pre-processor to normalize data
  • Stage 3: Rules engine

Why are there still intrusions?

  • The client side is more prevalent and it is the best place to attack.
  • File complexity is a good vector for malware
  • IDS exploitation is too complex
  • IPS needs skill for exploitation

Evolution of Snort

New pre-processors (gtp, modbus…), http compression.

>Deeper detection (cookies, javascript obfuscation…)

The message is that human is the key element.  Thus, they claim to simplify the task by focusing the reporting.


APT is more a buzz word.  It is not new.  The most important aspect is the Persistent Threat aspect.


Keynote: The authorization leap from rights to attributes: Maturation or Chaos? (R. Sandhu)

Ravi is the father of Role Based  Access Control (RBAC).   Will RBAC be replaced by Attribute Based Access Control?   In any case, we’re going towards flexible policy.  According to him, the main issue with Access Control is and will always be the analog hole.  Smile   The main defect of RBAC is that it does not offer an extension framework.  Thus, it is difficult to cope with short comings;  ABAC has the advantage to offer inherent extensibility by adding for instance attributes.

Security policy requires Policy Enforcement, Policy Specifications and Policy Administration.

He believes in Security as a Service because there will be an incentive to  properly secure stuff else you change the service provider.

SME session

Arxan (M. NOCTOR)

Nothing new.  If you don’t know Arxan, and if you need software tamper resistance, visit their site.


How to strip off a TV set?  He highlights the risk  of connected TVs that are not  secure at all, although they may handle confidential data such as credit card number.

Secure IC (P. NGUYEN)

Silicon Security;   Usual presentation on side channel attacks.   The new attacks are Correlation Power Analysis and Mutual Information Analysis (new since 2010)  The new trend is to use Information Theory realted metrics.  They have  a dual rail family with formally proved security (to be presented at CHES2012)

Nov 10 2009

Smart cards, Tokens, Security and Applications

This book (Springer 2008), by Keith Mayes and Konstantinos Markantonakis (editors), provides an overview of secure chips and their applications. It mainly focuses on two types of tokens: contact and contactless. Excepted a brief introduction to Trusted Platform Modules (TPM), the book does not detail embedded IC or Hardware Secure Modules (HSM). The book depicts the major operating systems and environments (Java Card, Global Platform, MultOS…) and describes in details the application development environments for Java and SIM toolkit. The book explores different fields of application: mobile, banking, Pay TV and ID cards. A special focus is given to the mobile applications.

In my mind, smart card is strongly associated to security. Security is the absent one from this book. The book never speaks about the hacks. In the contactless field, often the transport cards are cited. Never the recent hacks have been cited. In the ID cards, never the recent problems of passports have been disclosed.

Should you read it? If you are looking for a basic introduction to smart cards, this may be one of the references to read. Thus, it may interest non-security students, people who want to have a first level of understanding, journalists… If you are looking for a good understanding of one of the domains of use of smart cards, then look for a more specialized book. If you are a security expert, definitively this book is not for you.

A more complete review is available on the IACR web site.

Mar 19 2008

Nagra reinforces its secure coding capacities

Kudelski group announced that it acquired EDSI. Kudelski is better known in the world of security as NAGRAVISION. Nagra is one of the main Conditional Access provider. EDSI is a small French company, based at CESSON SEVIGNE.

Since 1990, EDSI specialized in the development of software for smart card dedicated to Pay TV or banking applications. EDSI acquired a strong expertise in security for these smart cards. It has also a certification laboratory assessing the robustness of smart card implementations.

Through this acquisition, NAGRA provides a strong positive message of a capacity to fight piracy. Another potential message is that smart card based Conditional Access Systems are not dead. A current trend, coming with IP delivery, was to promote card less solutions (Verimatix, Widevine, …). None of these card less solution has not yet had a large scale deployment as card based Conditional Access had. Thus their actual robustness against piracy has not been assessed. I will come back to the card less topic in one of my future post.

The corresponding press release is available at〈=e