Forbes reports that a hacker will explain at the Black Hat security conference that there is a security vulnerability with hotel room locks:
The next time you stay in a hotel room, run your fingers under the keycard lock outside your door. If you find a DC power port there, take note: With a few hacker tricks and a handful of cheap hardware, that tiny round hole might offer access to your room just as completely as your keycard.
At the Black Hat security conference Tuesday evening, a Mozilla software developer and 24-year old security researcher named Cody Brocious plans to present a pair of vulnerabilities he’s discovered in hotel room locks from the manufacturer Onity, whose devices are installed on the doors of between four and five million hotel rooms around the world according to the company’s figures. Using an open-source hardware gadget Brocious built for less than $50, he can insert a plug into that DC port and sometimes, albeit unreliably, open the lock in a matter of seconds. “I plug it in, power it up, and the lock opens,” he says simply.
In fact, Brocious’s break-in trick isn’t quite so straightforward. Testing a standard Onity lock he ordered online, he’s able to easily bypass the card reader and trigger the opening mechanism every time. But on three Onity locks installed on real hotel doors he and I tested at well-known independent and franchise hotels in New York, results were much more mixed: Only one of the three opened, and even that one only worked on the second try, with Brocious taking a break to tweak his software between tests.
Even with an unreliable method, however, Brocious’s work–and his ability to open one out of the three doors we tested without a key–suggests real flaws in Onity’s security architecture. And Brocious says he plans to release all his research in a paper as well as source code through his website following his talk, potentially enabling others to perfect his methods. […]
The system’s vulnerability arises, Brocious says, from the fact that every lock’s memory is entirely exposed to whatever device attempts to read it through that port. Though each lock has a cryptographic key that’s required to trigger its “open” mechanism, that string of data is also stored in the lock’s memory, like a spare key hidden under the welcome mat. So it can be immediately accessed by Brocious’s own spoofed portable device and used to open the door a fraction of a second later. […]
In fact, Brocious isn’t the only one who knows his tricks. His former employer, a startup that sought to reverse engineer Onity’s hotel front desk system and offer a cheaper and more interoperable product, sold the intellectual property behind Brocious’s hack to the locksmith training company the Locksmith Institute (LSI) for $20,000 last year. LSI students, who often include law enforcement, may already have the ability to open Onity doors at will. […]
In a move that may dismay security practitioners, Brocious never contacted Onity or its parent company United Technologies Corporation to tell the firm about its security flaws, and doesn’t plan to ahead of his talk. But he says that’s because there’s little the company could do: the locks can’t be simply upgraded with new firmware to fix the problem. New circuitboards will have to be installed in every affected lock, a logistical nightmare if millions of locks prove to be vulnerable.