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Researcher: Toll system poses hacking risk
Published: 2008-08-06

LAS VEGAS -- Courts may have to start treating the identification of motorists by electronic toll systems as suspect, after a researcher discovered that he could overwrite the identifier broadcasted by the devices used by the FasTrak system in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Speaking at the Black Hat Security Briefings on Wednesday, security researcher Nate Lawson of Root Labs revealed that the hardware used by FasTrak utilizes memory that can be overwritten with other people's identification numbers. The transponders each store a single ID number that matches to a customer's account, so that the toll system operators can charge the person with the correct toll. However, the lack of any security in the transponder's hardware and software means that changing the ID number is trivial, said Lawson, who is also known as the co-creator of the digital-rights management protecting Blu-ray movies.

"It doesn't worry met that some anarchist is going to erase all the transponders," Lawson said. "But it does worry me that these are being used in a court of law to establish location and identity."

Security researchers and hackers have increasingly focused on cracking into the hardware used to identify people. Last year, a number of researchers focused on the radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems used to track inventory in warehouses but also used to store and transmit identity data in electronic passports and next-generation driver's licenses. Earlier this year, the Center for Democracy and Technology warned that such electronic identification could pose significant privacy risks.

Lawson plans to focus future research on exploit flaws that he found in the transponder's firmware that could allow him to completely overwrite the code on the devices.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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