Security flaw could allow hackers to create hotel master keys

Hotel lock

The researchers reached out previous year to the company that makes the locks, Assa Abloy, and subsequently worked with the manufacturer to develop a software update that fixes the bug, they wrote on the F-Secure website.

"We wanted to find out if it's possible to bypass the electronic lock without leaving a trace", explained Timo Hirvonen of F-Secure.

Infosec outfit F-Secure has uncovered security vulnerabilities in a hotel keycard system that can be exploited by miscreants to break into rooms across the globe.

Tomi Tuominen and Timo Hirvonen, researchers from F-Secure, discovered a way to breach the system after almost a decade of research following a odd occurrence at a Berlin security conference in 2003.

"Intriguingly, there were no signs of forced entry", the researchers wrote.

Tuominen and Hirvonen say that they don't necessarily need to scan an active key card, even if that would be easy, as an attacker would only need to check into a hotel for one night. Hotels worldwide rely on VingCard's electronic lock system software to secure millions of hotel rooms, yet the researchers were able to create a master key that allowed them to open any room they wished.

The main instruments needed are a $300 Proxmark RFID card reading and writing tool and any card, either old or new, from a hotel, according to Wired.

Both men have tried to downplay any fears hotels and customers may have about the loophole and have actively worked with Assay Abloy to fix their system. They know, because they say they've done it. "We don't know of anyone else performing this particular attack in the wild right now". "But I think there is no immediate threat, since being able to develop this attack is going to take some time".

A Finnish cybersecurity company said Wednesday it's solved a vulnerability problem that allowed a master key to open thousands of hotel rooms worldwide. "If somebody was to do this full time, it would probably take considerably less time".

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That fix was issued earlier this year.

There was also a discrepancy in the number of hotel rooms that are vulnerable.

"Basically it blinks red a few times, and then it blinks green", Tuominen told Wired. "These old locks represent only a small fraction [of the those in use] and are being rapidly replaced with new technology".

Tech officials said, though, they are working to mitigate the continued risk.

The issue first arose over a decade ago, when a colleague of an F-Secure employee had his laptop stolen from a hotel room.

"Once we have the master key, we can write it to an ordinary hotel key".

The researchers made a decision to investigate the issue further by targeting a brand of lock known for quality and security.

F-Secure said it won't be publicly disclosing precise details about the hacking method used to breach the hotel locks, and that its researchers are unaware of any instances in which the vulnerability was exploited by others.

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