Your tax Pounds at work – UK government to make ID thieves lives easier

Having all your personal information in one ID is not a very good idea, even if protected by a good encryption scheme. Having all your information in a card protected with a bad encryption scheme is definitely a bad idea.

That seems to be the case with the ID cards issued by the Home Office to foreign nationals working in the UK. As described in a news article, it looks that a cell phone fitted with an RFID scanner and a laptop is all the hardware you need to clone one of these cards and even change the information on it.

Embedded inside the card for foreigners is a microchip with the details of its bearer held in electronic form: name, date of birth, physical characteristics, fingerprints and so on, together with other information such as immigration status and whether the holder is entitled to State benefits.

This chip is the vital security measure that, so the Government believes, will make identity cards ‘unforgeable’.

But as I watch, Laurie picks up a mobile phone and, using just the handset and a laptop computer, electronically copies the ID card microchip and all its information in a matter of minutes.

He then creates a cloned card, and with a little help from another technology expert, he changes all the information the card contains – the physical details of the bearer, name, fingerprints and so on. And he doesn’t stop there.

[Read the whole Mail-Online article]

These cards use the same technology as the ID card for British citizens unveiled last week by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary. ID thieves must be anxiously waiting for the introduction of government ID cards, which will facilitate their daily jobs.  

 

Power-up of a SRAM as a source of Entropy and Identification

Many years ago I was involved in a research project looking to use tiny differences in processing time inside a computer as a way to fingerprint the device. The idea was not unique, I guess that at the same time many were busy looking for similar things.

The reason was that in the framework of Internet security protocols such as SSL, if each party can fingerprint the other party’s computer, that will add another dimension to the development of a strong authentication scheme. Eventually the company supporting the research run out of interest and money and I forgot all about the idea until I recently read the news.

Enter the Fingerprint Extraction and Random Numers in SRAM (FERNS) method developed by Holcomb,  Burleson and Fu of the University of California Berkeley. They analyzed the initial state of the cells of a 512 kb Static Random Access Memory (SRAM) after power up and discovered that the stable states of some cells representing the bits were random, that is they have equal probability to be 1 or 0, while others cells were skewed to start as a 1 or as a 0. This property of the cells is due to imperfections of the fabrication process and are impossible to control.

A paper describing Burleson’s group work is going to appears in the IEEE Transactions on Computers.

From the Abstract
…..  We use experimental data from high performance SRAM, and the WISP UHF RFID tag to validate the principles behind FERNS. We demonstrate that 8 byte fingerprints from an SRAM chip are sufficient for uniquely identifying circuits among a population of 5,120 and extrapolate that 16 to 24 bytes of SRAM would be sufficient for uniquely identifying every instance of the SRAM ever produced. Using a smaller population, we demonstrate similar identifying ability from the embedded SRAM microcontroller memory of the WISP. In addition to identification, we show that SRAM fingerprints capture noise, enabling true random number generation. We demonstrate that the initial states of a 256 byte SRAM can produce 128 bit true random numbers capable of passing the NIST approximate entropy test.

The possibilities for the application of this technology to authentication and key generation schemes are enormous, specially in the field of portable devices. To have an entropy generator “in a chip” is great, if you get that together with a fingerprint of the chip is wonderful news. Certainly we’ll hear more about it.

 

Related reading: Quirks of RFID Memory Make for Cheap Security Scheme