Major EMV security flaw exposed in a new study

Less than a month after it's official launch in the U.S., a new study details how EMV cards can be compromised.

A new paper published by French security researchers at Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) detailed a 2011 case in which a group of criminals were able to bypass security measures in EMV.

In 2010, a group at Cambridge University built a proof-of-concept device that was able to bypass PINs necessary for authorizing purchases with EMV abroad. Their method wasn't necessarily practical, however, as it was large, needing a backpack for proper transport.

Just a year later, however, a group of French criminals were able to use that same concept, but scaled down significantly.

The group used a FUNcard, a chip commonly used by electronics hobbyists, in place of the backpack-sized solution used in Cambridge. The thieves were able to program the card, which is no larger then the size of a chip already on EMV cards, to make the card think that any code entered is the correct PIN.

"The attacker intercepts the PIN query and replies that it's correct, whatever the code is," said ENS researcher Remi Geraud in the report. "That's the core of the attack."

They would then remove the chip from a stolen credit card and solder the FUNcard card to the back of it, and then glue it back in place. The result was stolen credit card that could be used at will.

"It would be a bit harder to put it into the reader, but not so hard that you'd suspect anything," Geraud said. "It was quite clever, quite hard to detect." 

The criminals spent around $680,000 before the authorities caught up to them in 2011. 

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