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2/22/2008
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'Gecko' Penetrates Building Access Systems

Black Hat researcher builds device that lets intruders steal and clone legitimate credentials from biometric and contactless card-based systems

WASHINGTON -- BLACK HAT DC -- If you think your biometric or contactless smart card physical access system is safe, think again: A researcher here yesterday demonstrated how easy it is to hack these seemingly secure systems.

Zac Franken, a U.K. researcher, demonstrated a homegrown device called the Gecko, which is made from a Programmable Intelligent Computer (PIC) chip and some circuits. When connected to the wiring of a reader or scanner, it can intercept the user’s authentication entry data, leaving the door wide open for an attacker to clone or steal a user’s entry credentials, he said.

Gecko attacks the Wiegand protocols used by most readers to communicate with the access control systems. “Wiegand [communicates the data] in plain text, so it’s easily intercepted,” Franken said. (And many readers can easily be cracked open by unscrewing their plastic cover plates, he said.)

Franken demonstrated what he called Version 1 of Gecko, which can capture, record, replay, and disable a user’s credentials after they’ve been scanned into the reader. Gecko sits between the scanner and back-end access control system.

In the Gecko demo, a Black Hat volunteer scanned a legitimate access card through the reader, and then fellow researcher Adam Laurie -- acting as the bad guy -- was able to piggyback off of her access code with his own card and gain entry. He was also able to disable her card and enable his. (See Black Hat Researcher Hacks Credit Cards.)

Franken said Version 2 of Gecko will store multiple identities in Flash memory, and Version 3 will include a Bluetooth interface that can fake out biometric scanners that don’t use proximity cards. “Version 3 is ideal for biometric devices,” he said.

Version 4, meanwhile, will come with a GSM interface, Franken said, and would let an attacker open a door remotely.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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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