I have been looking forward to the HAR conference for a long time. After all, it was going to be the moment to publicly talk about our discovery on bypassing the electronic locking part on the first generation Mul-T-Lock Cliq. More then one year ago we discovered the samples we had in some instances could be opened with the so called ‘magnetic ring’ (you still needed to have the correct mechanical key or bypass the mechanical part). An important discovery as the attack would not show up in the electronic logfile in the lock. And the integrity of the logfile is a key issue in these kind of systems. So we immediately informed Mul-T-Lock about this problem. And even though communication did not always go smooth we came to an agreement. We agreed to go into full detail about this at the HAR conference in 2009. And that is what we just did. At the presentation we showed the problem was not magnetism … it was vibration!
In the meantime Mul-T-Lock came out with a new version and we even received some samples to test. How successful the fix was still has to be determined. And communication is still slow. Marc Tobias and Tobias Bluzmanis claimed at DefCon to be able to still open the latest generation Mul-T-Lock Cliq locks (and a wide range of other electronic and electromechanical locks). They briefed us behind closed doors and I can only say their claims look solid (as was to be expected from these clever and high-profile security experts!).
At the HAR presentation we also demonstrated attacks on electronic locks that make use of the basic Dallas Ibutton key. This key is nothing more then a device that spits out a 64 bit number. If the number is on the list of the lock it will open. I read somewhere 175 million of these keys are in use. We found it is not difficult to duplicate these keys.
What is more interesting is that we found a way to scan for keys on some of these locks. Scanning a 64 bit key can take forever (at approximately one key per second!). However … we discovered sometimes these keys are handed out in batches with numbers following up or in close range of each other. In those cases it might be possible to scan for numbers in a known range.
And our presentation contains some other attack vectors you might enjoy….
To see the entire presentation you need to go to: www.rehash.nl , select ‘HAR2009′ and enter ‘lockpicking’. Unfortunately there is no deeplink to our presentation yet….
Presenting these hacks was nice, but more important to me we also tried to address a more serious topic. That of disclosure and dealing with lock manufacturers.
I like to keep things simple. If we discover a vulnerability in a lock we will notify the manufacturer. We will tell them what we know and most of the time an interesting and technical discussion is started. And sometimes the manufacturer is a little reluctant and barely wants (or dares) to communicate. Especially in the US the stakes can be high for them because of the ‘I will sue you’ culture. So in a way we understand both approaches and are fine with them, as long as it is clear we will go public on the vulnerability at one moment in time. In general we are talking giving them three to six months, although a longer period can be negotiated if that time is needed to update specific projects or customers.
The philosophy behind this is approach is to give the manufacturer some time to fix the problem, inform it’s customers, exchange locks or prepare a press statement. The fact they know a publication is coming should be enough to motivate them to do the right thing. Going public on the vulnerability will send out a clear signal: better make good locks! There are motivated people out there paying attention to what you do and who will write about it if weak spots are discovered.
So far so good ….
What we have seen lately is that lock manufacturers (try to) fix problems but no longer openly want to discuss their fixes. It could be because of this ‘I sue you culture’, but it also creates a lot of ‘security trough obscurity’. And to me that is a sign of weakness. After all, how can we evaluate the ‘new and improved’ product if the manufacturer is reluctant to release information on how they (supposedly?) fixed a problem? The ‘just trust us, we know what we are doing’ approach is not something that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling … at all.
By not saying anything about the fix the researchers are delayed. Or if they have a limited number of locks to test they might even miss an important new feature that is incorporated in some of the new locks. But at the end of the day the information leaks out or is distilled from a greater pool of locks. And since the researchers are highly motivated, the product will fall anyway. Only by it taking a little longer to fall, more locks are sold and more locks are affected when it happens.
Interestingly enough it now seems some security researchers are going the same route as the lock manufacturers. They claim specific locks can be bypassed but refuse to tell the manufacturer how they did it. Only if the manufacturer promises to exchange all the locks in the field (free of charge) they are willing to explain how the technique works. The idea behind this is they are trying to do the end customer a favor. After all, nobody knows how to bypass the customers lock and the manufacturer has to change it free of charge before anyone else hears about it. Logically the lock manufacturer will first try to find the problem itself, but now learns what it feels like to be kept in the dark. Even if they find a vulnerability they can never be sure it is the same one the researchers found. So a fix created does not necessarily means it actually works against the unknown attack…. or if the fix introduces an even bigger problem! And instead of being happy, the end customer is getting nervous. What if someone else finds out about the problem?
There may well be a few extreme cases where putting lots of pressure on some manufacturer is justified because they are really screwing over the public interest. But in general we feel everyone benefits if we try to keep as much information available to as many parties as possible, as quickly as possible. That way, consumers can make informed choices, manufacturers still make their own judgments (and face public scrutiny on them) and manufacturers and enthusiasts can continue to learn from eachother.
Let us try to keep the research area open and transparent and all learn from these discoveries…..