Jan 25, 2010

Verizon Business reveals details of Encryption Key Compromises

Verizon Business recently held a webinar titled “Don’t be the next victim on PIN-Based attacks.”

In the webinar, they revealed that there have been several PIN breaches, as well as the details behind the most common attacks against encrypted debit PIN’s. While the method of obtaining the encryption keys may vary, the commonality of these attacks is that they occur when criminal organizations enter a system in the payments infrastructure and are able to take over, or control, the HSM (Host Security Module) that is used for debit key translation between different payment system processors. These attacks can occur against both financial institutions as well as retailers that have installed HSN’s for PIN translation.

The top threats identified in the webinar are:
• PIN Block Translation Attack
• HSM API Brute Force Attack
• Lack of Unique Keys per Device/Zone
• Use of weak keys

The PIN Block Translation attack takes advantage of a weak PIN encryption format included in HSM’s for compatibility reasons. The format, called IBM/Diebold only has 10,000 possible PIN combinations. The standard ANSI x9.8 PIN Block format has 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations. In this attack, criminals first breach the payment system network and then gain control of the HSM. Commands are entered to have the HSM build a table of all keys encrypted in the IM/Diebold format. They then use the PIN translation capability of the HSM to translate all DES or TDES encrypted PINs into the IBM/Diebold format, using the IBM/Diebold encryption key that they also load into the HSM. Then they simply look up the encrypted PIN in the table and they get the unencrypted PIN from the table.

A note – Verizon reports that gaining logical access to the HSM is easier than many people think and also occurs with much more frequency as well.

The HSM API Brute Force attack is similar to the PIN Block Translation Attack, but it does so without taking advantage of the IBM/Diebold format. Like the PIN Block Translation Attack, this also requires logical access to the HSM, gained by criminals after breaching the payment system network. Hackers break the encrypted PINs basically like solving an algebra problem by executing millions of commands to the HSM until they are able to determine the encrypted PIN. These commands are usually requested via batch or script files. This attack does not require a high degree of difficulty, but it does require much more time and processing power.

The Lack of Unique Keys per Device/Zone, is generally an attack that only occurs against retailers, although some ATM networks and gateways have also been breached as they are still using Master Session keys. This attack is usually aided by finding encrypted PIN block information in places like TLOG files and again uses a brute force type of attack against the encrypted PINs.

The fourth common method of attack against encrypted PINs takes advantage of weak DES (single DES) keys. In 1998 in a high-tech lab environment, DES keys were cracked in 56 hours. In 2007, DES keys can be cracked with a server costing less than $10,000 in 6 days.

There is also a Russian criminal gang that offers a fee-based DES cracking service. Ship a POS PED to the gang overnight and they will return the DES keys within 72 hours for $250,000, or you get your money back.

They also presented some best practices to reduce the impact of a PIN encryption key compromise as well as some ways to minimize the impact if a debit encryption key is breached.
• Replace any HSM’s that support the IBM/Diebold format, or upgrade the software so that it no longer supports the IBM/Diebold format.
• Do not use Master Session keys, as a breach of one location’s keys will provide them access to encrypted PIN’s from all devices.
• Review HSM logs and look for high volumes of unusual transactions like PIN translations.
• Review access to the HSM and make sure that only authorized programs are able to send it commands.
• Upgrade to TDES keys as they are much much more difficult to breach than single DES keys.
• Make sure you terminals are securely mounted and terminals in storage and transit are properly protected so they cannot be sent to Russian criminal gangs to have their encryption keys removed.
• As per current PCI requirements, a key should only be used for a single purpose. This limits the impact of a breach if one key is compromised. This is why the PCI PIN security requirements require encryption keys to be used for a single purpose only. (i.e. Debit PIN encryption, terminal authentication, end to end encryption, file signing, etc.)

The webinar was presented by Chris Novak, Managing Principal, Forensics Americas and Matthijs van de Wel, Managing Principal, Forensics EMEA

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