HID, IOActive Butt Heads Again

Rights and responsibilities of how, when to disclose vulnerabilities get revisited at Black Hat

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Black Hat DC -- HID Global and IOActive squared off face-to-face here today, after an IOActive researcher's briefing was yanked from the agenda this week following threats of a patent lawsuit by HID. (See Black Hat Cancels RFID Demo.)

The two remained at an impasse after Black Hat pulled together an impromptu RFID panel, minus IOActive's cloner research that prompted the debate, which included the ACLU, the Department of Homeland Security's US-CERT, and an RFID vendor who also does research. The panel re-convened in the Black Hat pressroom for a press conference, where it beat the drum some more.

HID spoke up publicly for the first time, and maintained that it had asked IOActive not to reveal source code, schematics, and to provide its solution to the flaws. "[We asked them] not to specifically target HID any more or less than any other vendor and to present solutions" to the problem, says Mike Davis, director of technology in the intellectual property department of HID.

"It was not a cease and desist" order, he says.

But IOActive sees it differently. Chris Paget, the researcher who built the RFID cloner and had planned to demonstrate it, says the ball is in HID's court. "It's up to HID to remove the threat of litigation so we can move forward and can talk in much greater detail," says Paget, director of research and development for IOActive.

Dan Kaminsky, director of penetration testing for IOActive, noted that the engineering side of the debate is less a conflict than the legal part. "I see no conflict" there, he says. "We could have worked together as engineers.

"Unfortunately, their initial communication with us was on legal grounds with very specific legal threats," Kaminsky says, adding that IOActive had no choice but to meet HID's demands and pull the presentation.

But HID's Davis says the RFID vendor did not ask IOActive to cancel its briefing at Black Hat. "We were surprised by their decision and to attribute it to a threat by HID. That was never HID's position."

The dispute and ongoing debate -- which both sides say they hope doesn't escalate legally -- strikes a nerve for enterprises. Paul Proctor, an analyst with Gartner, says organizations are purchasing the wrong RFID technology because it's the facilities management side of the house that's making those purchasing decisions.

"IT is not involved," he says.

HID and IOActive also were at odds over the responsible disclosure issue. "It's disingenuous and not proper to teach someone [and give] them carte blanche to build such a device and compromise security," says HID's Davis.

Paget maintains IOActive wasn't singling out HID. "We used the HID tag to develop the cloner because those are the tags we use in our building. There was no other reason."

Gartner's Proctor notes that a vulnerability, whether in the wild or well-known like RFID, merits disclosure to the end-user community to "raise awareness."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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