Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2005/052

Picking Virtual Pockets using Relay Attacks on Contactless Smartcard Systems

Ziv Kfir and Avishai Wool

Abstract: A contactless smartcard is a smartcard that can communicate with other devices without any physical connection, using Radio-Frequency Identifier (RFID) technology. Contactless smartcards are becoming increasingly popular, with applications like credit-cards, national-ID, passports, physical access. The security of such applications is clearly critical. A key feature of RFID-based systems is their very short range: typical systems are designed to operate at a range of ~10cm. In this study we show that contactless smartcard technology is vulnerable to relay attacks: An attacker can trick the reader into communicating with a victim smartcard that is very far away. A ``low-tech'' attacker can build a pick-pocket system that can remotely use a victim contactless smartcard, without the victim's knowledge. The attack system consists of two devices, which we call the ``ghost'' and the ``leech''. We discuss basic designs for the attacker's equipment, and explore their possible operating ranges. We show that the ghost can be up to 50m away from the card reader---3 orders of magnitude higher than the nominal range. We also show that the leech can be up to 50cm away from the the victim card. The main characteristics of the attack are: orthogonality to any security protocol, unlimited distance between the attacker and the victim, and low cost of the attack system.

Category / Keywords: applications / RFID

Date: received 22 Feb 2005

Contact author: yash at eng tau ac il

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Version: 20050225:074423 (All versions of this report)

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