Students Successfully Hack RFID Crypto

RFID-chips -- commonly used for wireless payments, access key cards, and even to open car doors -- have been shown relatively easy to hack.

2 Min Read

RFID-chips -- commonly used for wireless payments, access key cards, and even to open car doors -- have been shown relatively easy to hack.That's the news coming from the University of Virginia after a grad student there, and two other researchers, cracked the code used to encrypt RFID chips. According to the university, the research shows that with nothing more than technical skill, a PC, and $1,000 on hand for easily found equipment is all that's needed to clone your own subway pass -- or maybe wave a proximity card to get into some physically secured area, like the data center.

Karsten Nohl, 26, the lead researcher, and the rest of the team haven't released the details of how they broke the crypto. While that may make it harder for criminals to replicate what these researchers found, it makes to tough to evaluate the magnitude of their claim.

The chip the students say they've cracked is the MiFare Classic, NXP Semiconductors, a spin-off of electronics behemoth Philips. This chip is popular in transit and security systems. I'm not sure how many of these chips have sold since the mid-1990s when they first hit the market but it's been millions and millions. Maybe even, as scientist-philosopher Carl Sagan might have said: billions and billions of tiny RFID chips floating along with the ebb and flow of civilization and humans purchase stuff and travel throughout the planet.

I wish I knew more about how they cracked the crypto. If their claims are accurate, it means thieves can clone many types of contactless access and payment cards.

What's most concerning is RFID technology is planned to hold information on not only passports, but also medical implants.

While this is no reason to panic, it shows that two forms of authentication is always a good idea, such as using the proximity card, plus a pin or biometric -- or requiring that a car key be inserted into the ignition (after using a wireless starter) to put the car in drive.

There's more information on this story available here.

About the Author(s)

George V. Hulme, Contributing Writer

An award winning writer and journalist, for more than 20 years George Hulme has written about business, technology, and IT security topics. He currently freelances for a wide range of publications, and is security blogger at

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