Thieves could exploit encryption vulnerabilities, computer scientists warn
A popular radio-frequency ID system that is used to deter car thefts and as a convenience device for the purchase of gasoline can be defeated with low-cost technology, computer scientists from The Johns Hopkins University and RSA Laboratories have determined.
Their findings, described in a new research paper, indicate that the encryption in RFID microchips in some newer car keys and wireless payment tags may not keep thieves at bay. Using a relatively inexpensive electronic device, criminals could wirelessly probe a car key tag or payment tag in close proximity, and then use the information obtained from the probe to crack the secret cryptographic key on the tag, the scientists said. By obtaining this key, lawbreakers could more easily circumvent the auto theft prevention system in that person’s car or potentially charge their own gasoline purchases to the tag owner’s account.
The researchers uncovered the vulnerability while studying the Texas Instruments Registration and Identification System, a low-power radio-frequency security system used worldwide. The researchers said that more than 150 million of these transponders are embedded in keys for newer vehicles built by at least three leading manufacturers. The transponders are also inside more than 6 million key chain tags used for wireless gasoline purchases. The computer security researchers discovered a way that tech-savvy thieves can get around the encryption safeguards in these systems.
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