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APDU-level attacks on crypto tokens and smartcards

Graham Steel
July 19, 2016

In collaboration with the University of Venice Ca' Foscari, we've been researching the protocols smartcards and authentication tokens use to communicate underneath the PKCS#11 API that's exposed to applications. These protocols tend to be quite different for each device.

Results include sensitive cryptographic keys in the clear, PINs in the clear or easily reversible, stateless protocols that allow easy injection of commands and restrictions on key use enforced at the PKCS#11 (driver) level that are trivially bypassed at the APDU level.

Our findings will be presented in September at the 19th International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defences – RAID 2016.A preprint of the paper is available here. We have also published a summary of the paper.

The research was carried out some time ago, and manufacturers concerned were all informed well in advance of disclosure. We'll continue to investigate more of the devices our customers use.