14.7 Smart Card Hacking

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Smart card hacking is not specific to Windows. However, starting with Windows 2000 Server (and continuing with later versions), integrated smart card support was also highly touted as a new security feature of Microsoft's server architecture. Smart card attacks are therefore presented here merely as a reminder that no particular solution is infallible.

A smart card typically describes a plastic strip the size of a credit card that has an embedded microprocessor. By taking advantage of PKI, smart cards simplify solutions such as interactive logon, client authentication, and remote logon. The use of smart cards is growing rapidly .

Like any technology, smart cards are vulnerable to attack. In addition to the inherent weaknesses of PKI described above, smart cards may be vulnerable to physical attacks. This section reviews smart card technology and shows a brief sample of attacks against them. By understanding these vulnerabilities, you can make an informed decision on whether to utilize Windows 2003 Server's streamlined support for smart cards.

14.7.1 Smart Card Advantages

The advantages that smart cards provide include:

  • Tamper-resistant and permanent storage of private keys

  • Physical isolation of secure private key computations from other parts of the system

  • Ease of use and portability of credentials for mobile clients

One advantage of smart cards is that they use personal identification numbers (PINs) instead of passwords. PINs do not have to follow the same rules as strong passwords, because the cards are less susceptible to brute force dictionary attacks. A short PIN is secure because an uncompromised smart card locks after a certain number of PIN inputs are incorrectly attempted. Furthermore, the PIN itself is never transmitted over the network, so it is protected from classic sniffing attacks.

Unlike a password, it is not necessary to change a PIN frequently. In fact, traditionally there has been no change-PIN functionality available through the standard desktop logon interface, as there is for passwords. The change-PIN capability is only exposed to the user when a private key operation is being performed, due to the lack of standards for how PINs are managed across card operating systems; thus, PIN management cannot be done at the operating system layer. (Note that the U.S. Government actually has standardized on a smart card, known as the Common Access Card, which includes a change-PIN feature.)

14.7.2 Hardware Reverse Engineering

In 1998, an extensive and well-organized phone-card piracy scam demonstrated how vital proper encryption could be. As reported in Wired magazine, criminals from the Netherlands flooded Germany with millions of illegally recharged telephone debit cards. The cards, designed for Deutsche Telekom payphones, used a simple EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory) chip developed by Siemens Corporation that deducted value from the card as minutes were used up. Ordinarily, once the credit balance reached zero, the cards would be thrown away or given to collectors. However, the Dutch pirates found a way to bypass the simple security and recharge the cards without leaving any physical evidence of tampering. Using hardware reverse engineering, pirates could understand the simple encryption stored on the chip. In addition, they found a bug that allowed the stored monetary value to be reset. The pirates bought up thousands of spent cards in bulk from collectors, recharged them, and resold them at a discount to tobacco shops and other retail outlets across Germany. The damage from this piracy was estimated to amount to $34 million.

Hardware attacks on smart cards have traditionally required access to sophisticated laboratory equipment. For example, one way to attack smart cards involves the use of an electron microscope. Using careful etching techniques, reverse engineers physically "peel away" layers of the microprocessor. Next, image processing can often give them a fair idea of the contents of the memory registers.

More sophisticated attacks are possible with the proper equipment. One project at Sandia National Laboratories involved "looking through" the chip. This attack, known as light-induced voltage alteration , involves probing operating ICs from the back with an infrared laser to which the silicon substrate is transparent. This nondestructive method induces photocurrents that allow the researcher to probe the device's operation and to identify the logic states of individual transistors . Similarly, low-energy charge induced voltage alteration uses a low-energy electron beam generated by a scanning electron microscope to produce a surface interaction phenomenon that creates a negative charge-polarization wave. This allows the researcher to image the chip in order to identify open conductors and voltage levels without causing damage.

14.7.3 EEPROM Trapping

It is often easier to go directly after the EEPROM contents in a smart card. In EEPROM-based devices, erasing the charge stored in the floating gate of a memory cell requires an unusually high voltage, such as 12V instead of the standard 5V. If the attacker can circumvent the high voltage charge, the information is trapped.

With early pay-TV smart cards, a dedicated connection from the host interface supplied the programming voltage. This allowed attacks on systems in which cards were enabled for all channels by default, but those channels for which the subscriber did not pay were deactivated by broadcast signals. Thus, you could block the programming voltage contact on the smart card with tape or by clamping it inside the decoder using a diode. Taking this step prevented the broadcast signals from affecting the card. The subscriber could cancel his subscription without the vendor being able to cancel his service.

Once the contents of the EEPROM are trapped, there are many methods to access the goods. Attackers can use any of the following means:

  • Raising the supply voltage above its design limit

  • Lowering the supply voltage below its design limit

  • Resetting random memory locations using ultraviolet light in order to find the bit controlling read-protection

  • Exploiting weaknesses in the ROM code

  • Exploiting weaknesses in the EEPROM code

In order to thwart these attacks, some IC chips have sensors that force a reset when voltage or other environmental conditions go out of range. However, this can cause massive performance degradation because of false positives. Imagine if your smart card went dead every time the power surged during system startup. For this reason, such defenses are difficult to implement.

14.7.4 Power Consumption Analysis

Power consumption analysis involves monitoring a smart card's power consumption in order to assist in code breaking. A smart card does not have its own power supply; rather, it draws power from the smart card reader when it is inserted. This power is required to run the IC chip ”for example, in performing cryptographic calculations.

Using sensitive equipment, it is possible to track differences in smart card power consumption. This knowledge could make it possible to recover a card's secret key. By watching for changes in power consumption, a researcher can obtain clues because the calculations used to scramble the data depend on the values of the secret key. For instance, one simple attack involves watching an oscilloscope graph the power consumption of a card. The key is processed in binary bits that are either zeros or ones. If a chip consumes slightly more power to process a one than a zero, the key could be extracted simply by reading the peaks and valleys in the graph of power consumption.

A more sophisticated statistical attack known as differential power analysis can be used to extract the key even when it is not readily decipherable from the power consumption data. This technique allows the researcher to extract each bit of the key by making guesses and testing each several times.

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Security Warrior
Security Warrior
ISBN: 0596005458
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 211

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