Industry News

Hacking Hardware for Less than $50 Can Open 4 Million Hotel Rooms

A security flaw in keycard door locks from Onity could trouble the sleep of more than 4 million hotel guests around the world. According to a demonstration by 24-year old security researcher Cody Brocious in a BlackHat pre-briefing, the electronic part of the Onity locking system can be easily tricked into opening the door for unauthorized users through the 5-volt DC port it exposes.

Even though the keycard system uses advanced encryption for the password, the specific model exposes a DC port that can access the device’s memory where the chunk of data (the master key) responsible for unlocking is stored. This DC port allows an electronic programmer to read and write the door lock’s memory space, which is exactly what Brocious did with his device.

In order to unlock the door, he plugged into the DC port a home-made electronic key programmer – similar to what hotel staff use to program doors – that was built from parts one can buy at the local Radio Shack for less than $50.

With how stupidly simple this is, it wouldn’t surprise me if a thousand other people have found this same vulnerability and sold it to other governments,” Brocious said, as quoted by Forbes. “An intern at the NSA could find this in five minutes.

Although the system does not work every time in real-life scenarios because of alleged timing issues in communication between his device and the Onity locks, there is still a great chance of having a door open without an authorized key, making it easier for other hotel guests to break into others’ rooms, among others.

What Onity should learn from the hack is that advanced encryption is useless if you don’t regulate which ports can read what. And there’s no need to re-think the entire system or change four million locks overnight – one just needs a good old piece of thick brass shield over the exposed port to make things right again.

About the author

Bogdan BOTEZATU

Bogdan Botezatu is living his second childhood at Bitdefender as senior e-threat analyst. When he is not documenting sophisticated strains of malware or writing removal tools, he teaches extreme sports such as surfing the web without protection or rodeo with wild Trojan horses. He believes that most things in life can be beat with strong heuristics and that antimalware research is like working for a secret agency: you need to stay focused at all times, but you get all the glory when you catch the bad guys.

3 Comments

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  • My name is Ivan Aramayo, Director of Marketing and Communication of VingCard Elsafe. The article refers to a security flaw in Onity locks, however, the picture that is displayed in the article shows our VingCard electronic lock which is NOT affected with this issue. We are requesting immediate removal of the picture and inform by e-mail about the removal so we can inform our lawyers accordingly because the current picture is creating brand damage and market confusion.
    We appreciate your prompt action

  • This is unacceptable. They should remove this image soonest or face the consequences.
    Unbelievable.