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Car security: How easy is it to wirelessly hack into most cars?

[HT Ryan Baily]

According to this research paper, its pretty easy.

Srdjan Capkun, an assistant professor of computer science in the system security group at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, who led the work, says he was inspired to investigate the security of keyless entry and start systems after buying a car that had one. Capkun and Aurélien Francillon and Boris Danev, both researchers in the same institution, examined 10 car models from the eight manufacturers. They were able to access all 10 and drive them away by intercepting and relaying signals from the cars to their wireless keys. While they could relay the signals from the key back to the car as well, usually they did not need to because the key transmits its signals up to around 100 meters. The attack works no matter what cryptography and protocols the key and car use to communicate with each other.

Normally, when a wireless key is within a few meters of the right car, it detects a low-powered signal that causes it to issue a command that opens the car enable the ignition. The researchers used a pair of antennas to transmit these signals from the car to the key when the key was farther away, tricking the car into opening without the ordinary authorization. One antenna needs to be very close to the car, and one needs to be within eight meters of the key.

The researchers came up with two versions of the attack. In one, they ran a cable from near the car to near the key and used it to transmit the signals. They conducted the other wirelessly. Francillon says that the materials for the wired attack cost about $50, and those for the wireless attack cost between $100 and $1,000, depending on the electronic components used.

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The Economist on Biometrics

[HT Bruce Schneier]

Here’s an excellent article on the use of biometrics in security system. Here are some highlights.

Intro

Authentication of a person is usually based on one of three things: something the person knows, such as a password; something physical the person possesses, like an actual key or token; or something about the person’s appearance or behaviour. Biometric authentication relies on the third approach. Its advantage is that, unlike a password or a token, it can work without active input from the user. That makes it both convenient and efficient: there is nothing to carry, forget or lose.

Some problems

The downside is that biometric screening can also work without the user’s co-operation or even knowledge. Covert identification may be a boon when screening for terrorists or criminals, but it raises serious concerns for innocent individuals. Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock.

Another problem with biometrics is that the traits used for identification are not secret, but exposed for all and sundry to see. People leave fingerprints all over the place. Voices are recorded and faces photographed endlessly. Appearance and body language is captured on security cameras at every turn. Replacing misappropriated biometric traits is nowhere near as easy as issuing a replacement for a forgotten password or lost key. In addition, it is not all that difficult for impostors to subvert fingerprint readers and other biometric devices.

Research findings

The panel of scientists, engineers and legal experts who carried out the study concludes that biometric recognition is not only “inherently fallible”, but also in dire need of some fundamental research on the biological underpinnings of human distinctiveness. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are paying for studies of better screening methods, but no one seems to be doing fundamental research on whether the physical or behavioural characteristics such technologies seek to measure are truly reliable, and how they change with age, disease, stress and other factors. None looks stable across all situations, says the report. The fear is that, without a proper understanding of the biology of the population being screened, installing biometric devices at borders, airports, banks and public buildings is more likely to lead to long queues, lots of false positives, and missed opportunities to catch terrorists or criminals.

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Governments calling citizens to ditch Internet Explorer

Google was recently hit by an exploit McAfee has named “Aurora”. This exploit involves all versions of Internet Explorer (though version 6 is getting most of the attention) which has prompted the governments of France and Germany to warn it’s citizens not to use Internet Explorer at all.

Microsoft initially tried to claim that this exploit was trivial but has since issued an out-of-cycle emergency patch for all versions of Internet Explorer.

Looks like now is the perfect time to switch to one of the more superior browsers like Chrome or Firefox.

Here’s a video detailing how this hack works in action in case you are like me and interested in the juicy technical details:

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