Oyster card hackers may have their research blocked

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HMRC has radically improved its data security measures since the breach which caused it to lose 25 million child benefit records in October last year.

Two Dutch academics who came to London last week to prove they could break the cipher behind London's Oyster travel card have been warned by the country's Government not to expose any secrets in their upcoming paper on the subject

Dutch academics who visited London to break the cryptography behind the Oyster card may have their work on the subject blocked by the country's Government.

Dutch secretary of state Tineke Huizinga urged Bart Jacobs and Wouter Teepe not to publish any secrets of their hack that may lead to smartcard systems being abused.

The duo, from Radboud University in Nijmegen, had planned to publish a paper on the subject at the Esorics security conference in October.

The Dutch Government was going to introduce a smartcard payments system based on the same chip as Oyster, called Mifare. But it postponed the 1bn euro project earlier this year after Jacobs and Teepe revealed they could carry out the hack.

Jacobs defended his research. Quoted in the Dutch ICT publication WebWereld, he said he was providing mathematical analysis and not attack code. "It requires a lot of expert work to transform the analysis from the Esorics paper into a working device for performing attacks on card installations," he said.

He added that other groups may have written tools to carry out such an attack and distributed them on the internet. He could offer no additional comment at the time of writing.

Academics from University College London have also broken the Mifare cipher. UCL's Nicolas Courtois said he could carry out his attack in just 12 seconds.

Transport for London maintains that making a clone of an Oyster card is illegal.


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