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6/25/2007
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Hacking Truckers

Researchers discover that the contents of a truck's haul are wide open to hackers via RFID

Now even truckers will need to worry about RFID security: Researchers say they have discovered that they can scan and hack electronic product code (EPC) labels on products being transported on 18-wheeler tractor-trailers.

Researchers at PacketFocus Security Solutions , with the help of researchers at Atlas RFID Solutions, so far have been able to easily read EPC codes using standard EPC Generation 2 readers and antennas, says Joshua Perrymon, hacking director for PacketFocus Security Solutions. The firm recently rented an 18-wheeler from a local freight company and loaded it with EPC-tagged boxes to test out just what data can be intercepted from the big rigs. "We wanted to determine what information we could glean from outside the truck," Perrymon says.

It's a supply chain nightmare. Perrymon says he and his colleagues didn't have to do much more than run the off-the-shelf tools. "We are showing you can do this with off-the-shelf products, and you don't have to be a super-hacker" to get EPC data off a tractor-trailer, he says.

EPC, the heir apparent to the bar code, provides unique tags for each item, rather than just the vendor and class of product as bar codes do. That makes inventory and shipment-tracking more efficient, of course, but also opens the door for attackers to lift detailed information about what a particular truck is hauling and where, as well as to actually hack the EPC codes via an EPC writer, Perrymon says.

"Each product has its own EPC number," he says. "If a company is using EPC numbers, we can sit outside the tractor-trailer and scan them, reference them with known EPC numbers, and know the inventory of what's on that trailer."

That means your competitor could use this information for intelligence purposes. "He could get an idea of what you are shipping and how much, and how often," Perrymon says, adding that an attacker could also write to those tags, either disabling or changing them if you don't apply the proper authorization and passwords to your EPC system. That's PacketFocus's next step in its research.

And sniffing the truck's payload could also provide criminals with intelligence they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get very easily, thus helping them target their holdups or other heists, he says. "Unless they had a lot of inside information, they don't have enough information to rob that truck. Now they can scan it if it's not secure -- they don't want to rob that toilet paper truck, but if it's got plasma TVs with surround sound, [that's their] target."

Truckers are especially vulnerable because they travel to public truck stops to sleep and rest, says Perrymon. "That's vulnerable for RFID stuff sitting in the truck, passive."

So far, Perrymon and his team have only tested a parked 18-wheeler, but they plan to also try hacking while the truck is in transit on the highway. "I want to see if we can do this going down the road, but I'm pretty sure we can." He says they'll pull up alongside the truck and scan it as they drive along the highway.

The range for reading the EPC tags mostly depends on power and antennas, he says, because some types of tags "talk further" than others, he says.

EPC RFID security is a lot like the typical home WLAN: Companies are more worried about getting the operational side of it installed and often leave their system in default mode, with easily guessed passwords. Perrymon says he first deploys the reader to see what data comes back and then uses a custom script to eke out the weak password.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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