Secure Physical Access with NFC-enabled Smartphones

IMVS Fokus Report 2015
Secure Physical Access with
NFC-enabled Smartphones
This paper presents a smartphone-based physical access control system in which the access points are
not directly connected to a central authorization server. The access points ask the mobile phone whether
a particular user has access or not. The mobile phone then relays such a request to the access server. The
authentication of the smartphone is based on public-key cryptography. This requires that the private key
is stored in a secure element or in a trusted execution environment to prevent identity theft. In our solution we use the following secure element archiectures: Host Card Emulation (HCE) and a microSD-based
secure element. We show that the HCE approach cannot solve the relay attack under conservative security
assumptions and we present and discuss an implementation based on a microSD secure element that still
allows the access points to connect to the authorization server upon every access albeit the access points
are not connected with it.
Christof Arnosti, Dominik Gruntz, Marco Hauri |
The smartphone has become the central gadget in
our life and makes our wallet more and more redundant. We use the phone for mobile payment,
for mobile ticketing and soon it will replace all the
smart cards we carry in our wallet.
This paper presents a physical access control
system (PACS) in which the access card is replaced
by a smartphone. The access points are not connected; they check whether access is granted by
sending an access request to the mobile phone.
The mobile phone either forwards such a request
to the access server or, if it is not connected to the
internet, presents an access token stored on the
mobile phone to the access point. Access is thus
possible even if the mobile phone is not connected
to the internet.
The communication between the mobile phone
and the access point is based on Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a short-range wireless
technology that enables communication between
a smartphone and an access point over a distance
of approximately 10 cm or less. NFC operates at
13.56 MHz and can achieve (theoretical) transfer rates up to 424 kbit/s. A growing number of
smartphones are equipped with NFC [12].
We define a PACS as a system that controls access to physical resources like buildings, rooms
or protected areas, using user-specific access
control rules. A PACS supports two main activities: authentication and authorization. When a
person requests access to a physical resource
then it claims its identity and the authentication
process verifies this claim. Authorization then defines whether access is granted for this identity or
not. In a PACS, the authentication process checks
whether the person
• knows a secret (e.g. a password or a PIN),
This is the submitted version of a paper which has been
accepted for the 13th International Conference on Advances in
Mobile Computing and Multimedia (MoMM15), 11 - 13 December 2015 in Brussels, Belgium.
• has something (e.g. a key or a token), or
• has a unique property (e.g. biometric properties).
PACS based on NFC are not new. Such systems typically store the access rights on the SIM card or
on an embedded secure element and they depend
on third party suppliers, for example mobile network operators (MNOs), trusted service managers
(TSMs), smartphone manufacturers like Google,
Apple or Samsung, or identity service providers
like Legic IDConnect.
In this paper we present a PACS which is independent of third party providers. The smart card
is replaced by the smartphone which is connected
to the access server. However, since these phones
are programmable and network connected, they
provide a large surface for attacks [8]. In this paper we describe and analyze the security of different authentication solutions developed in the
context of a concrete PACS. In particular we present a novel authentication process which prevents
software proxy attacks.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows:
In the next two sections we describe the general
structure of our solution and the designed protocols. The security properties are analyzed in the
section „Attack Surfaces“ and a solution to the
authorization problem is presented in the section
„Separate Secure Element“. Finally, we describe
further (physical) attacks and compare the different PACS approaches. After an overview of related
approaches we conclude with the results.
PACS Models
A classical PACS consists of three components:
A server, identity cards and access points (doors
with electronic components). There exist two common interaction models for these components.
In the online access point model the access
point is connected with the server over a network
connection. In this model, the card acts as an au-
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
thentication-only component. The access point
authenticates the card and accesses the server to
get authorization information for the authenticated card. The server then decides whether the access is permitted or not.
In the offline access point model the access
point has no connection to the server. Authorization data for a set of access points is stored on
the card. Such authorization data contain access
rights which are only valid for a limited time
(which is defined individually by the server for
each access point and each card) and has to be
renewed periodically by the end-user. The access
point is able to authenticate the card and to get
the authorization data directly from it.
A PACS in which the identity cards are emulated by smartphones can follow both models. But
since a smartphone is a connected device, a third
model is possible, namely a model where the offline access point is connected to the server using
the smartphone as a proxy. This model combines
the advantages of the other two models, i.e. the
access points don’t need a network connection
(which means reduced infrastructure costs) but
nevertheless support the verification of access
rights at access time.
In our system the smartphone is responsible
for authentication. Authorization data is requested from the server by the smartphone after the
initial contact between the access point and the
smartphone (see Figure 1).
We also implemented the possibility to store
access rights on the smartphone (similar to the
offline access point model), but we do not discuss
this in this paper since the security implications
do not change.
Protocol Design
As shown in Figure 1, the protocol scheme of our
smartphone-based PACS consists of two protocols: the authentication protocol to authenticate
the smartphone to the access point and the authorization protocol to transmit authorization data
between the server and the access point, using the
smartphone as a relay.
The authentication protocol is based on public-key cryptography. On the smartphone, an RSA
key pair is stored. The public key of this key pair
is known to the authorization server and is includ-
Figure 1: Smartphone solution
ed in the authorization answer which is signed by
the server. This signature links authorization and
authentication by proving that the authentication
response is made by the device the authorisation
response belongs to.
Both parts of the protocol are initiated by the
access point and the requests for both parts are
simultaneously sent from the access point to the
smartphone using NFC. The answers are also simultaneously sent by the smartphone to the access point.
Authentication Protocol
To authenticate the smartphone (M), the access
point (A) sends a nonce to the smartphone. The
smartphone signs this nonce and sends the signature (sig) back to the access point. The access
point then can check if the signature was created
using the private key belonging to the same key
pair as the public key sent and signed by the server in the authorization protocol.
1. NFC: A Æ M: NonceA
2. NFC: M Æ A: sigM (NonceA)
Authorization Protocol
The authorization request sent by the access
point (A) to the smartphone (M) consists of two
segments: The access point ID and a nonce. This
information is relayed to the server (S). By using
SSL for the transport, the ID of the smartphone
is provided to the server in the form of an X.509
client certificate.
The server can decide whether the access request should be granted or denied based on the
access point ID, the smartphone ID, current time
and access rights stored and managed by the
1. NFC: A Æ M: IDA || NonceA
2. Internet (TLS): M Æ S: IDA || NonceA || ClientcertM
3. Internet (TLS): S Æ M: AccessOK || sigS (PubkeyM
|| IDA || NonceA || AccessOK)
4. NFC: M Æ A: PubkeyM || IDA || NonceA || AccessOK ||
sigS (PubkeyM || IDA || NonceA || AccessOK)
The access point ID, the nonce and the information whether the access was granted is encoded in
the authorization answer, together with the public key of the key pair stored on the smartphone.
The access point can verify the identity of the
phone with the public key, and it can validate the
authorization answer by means of a cryptographic signature based on a common secret known by
the access point and the server.
To reduce the amount of data transferred between the server and the smartphone, all data already known by either side (access point ID, nonce
and smartphone public key) are omitted. These
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
Figure 2: Attack surfaces: only the access point and the server
assumed secure
data are re-attached by the smartphone before the
whole packet is relayed back to the access point.
Attack Surfaces
Access control systems are security sensitive systems, a breach of security could lead to physical
break-in and subsequently theft, sabotage or espionage. Because of this, security assumptions have
to be conservative.
We assume that the smartphone and data
transmission channels are insecure (marked with
an insecure sign in Figure 2). Attackers with the
right infrastructure can create man-in-the-middle scenarios to monitor or manipulate data sent
over the internet or over the NFC connection. Malware inadvertently installed on a smartphone
allows an attacker to gain full control of the installed software, to examine stored data and to
run applications.
To allow the access point to securely decide
about granting or denying access, two conditions
have to be met: First, the authentication of the
smartphone has to be secure; and second, the authorization data transmitted from the server must
not be tampered with.
In the next two sections we describe attacks
directly related to the protocol. Further attacks
are described in the section „Physical Attacks“.
Attacking Authorization
An attacker with control over the network connection between the smartphone and the server can
read and manipulate any transmitted data. To
mitigate this type of attack, a TLS secured connection is used. X.509 certificates are used to authenticate the smartphone and the server to each
other. With this technology in place, an attacker
can only read the encrypted data, and any manipulation would immediately be detected.
The authorization data sent by the server to the
access point is relayed by the smartphone, thus
an attacker with control over the smartphone
software can read and alter the transmitted data
while it’s passing through the smartphone. To allow detection of altered authentication data the
server and the access point share a common secret which is used to digitally sign the transmitted data. By reading the authentication data sent
by the server, the only valuable additional information an attacker gains is whether the attacked
smartphone has access rights to the access point
at the time of transmission.
With the nonce which is sent to the server and
back to the access point, a replay attack (in which
an attacker sends the same answer multiple times
to reuse old authorization data) can be detected.
The access point simply compares the received
nonce with the sent one to see if the answer correspondents to the current request. To check the
integrity of the authorization answer, the access
point can create a signature of the payload data
and compare it to the signature sent by the server. If the signatures don’t match, the message was
either not signed by the correct server, or changed
in transit.
An attacker with control over the smartphone
software, and thus over the TLS authentication
used to verify the identity of the smartphone to
the server, can send multiple authorization requests to the server to gain information about the
access rights of the attacked smartphone.
Attacking Authentication
While detecting manipulation of authorization
data is relatively easy since both ends of the communication are trusted components, the authentication process is more difficult to handle. The security of the authentication protocol relies on the
possibility to store a secret key in a secure storage
on the smartphone.
When confronted with a simple smartphone
software solution, an attacker with system-level
access can simply read the private key which is
used to authenticate the smartphone against the
access point. This private key can then be used
on another device to impersonate the attacked
Starting with version 4.3, Android provides
support for hardware-based key stores [1]. Such
key stores depends on the availability of security
hardware (mostly integrated into the CPU of the
smartphone) and on the software implementation
of device manufacturers. If a hardware-based key
store is present in a device, a smartphone application can use it to securely store the private key of
a key pair and to execute private key operations
without the possibility that the Android OS or any
Figure 3: Software relay attack: a) the authorisation request,
b) the authorisation answer
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
this piece of hardware, we gain another secure
component in the system which can be used for
Secure Elements
Figure 4: Use of a secure element for authentication
third-party applications can extract the private
key [6, pp. 178-180].
Even if a hardware-based key store is used,
an attacker can apply a software relay attack on
the key store (similar to the relay attack on a secure element described by Michael Roland [14]) to
execute the needed private key operations on the
victim’s smartphone at the time of access with
a second smartphone (Figure 3). To achieve this
goal, the attacker uses a smartphone to create a
connection with the access point system. He then
sends the authentication request by internet to a
malware application on the victim’s smartphone,
where the malware can execute the necessary
private key operations to generate the signature
needed for authentication and send back the result to the attacker’s smartphone.
The software relay attack can only be solved
using a separate trusted processing environment
with its own NFC connection to securely authenticate the smartphone to the access point. This
processing environment executes all private key
operations and sends the result directly to the access point without the possibility that any code
executed on the smartphone CPU can access the
result. Such a solution which still supports online
authorization is described in the next section.
Separate Secure Element
As discussed in the last section, a separate piece
of hardware is needed which can communicate to
the access point by NFC and to the smartphone
(see Figure 4). Such a secure processing environment is typically called a secure element (SE) or
trusted execution environment (TEE). By adding
Figure 5: Overview of the protocol of a PACS with a microSD-SE
Most modern SEs or TEEs are very small computers which are used in many different security
sensitive applications – for example banking and
credit cards, SIM cards, as an implementation for
hardware-based key stores in Android phones, for
access cards and also in smartphone NFC solutions. An SE contains at least a processing unit,
program memory (typically flash memory), execution memory (RAM) and an interface to allow connections to other systems. Most SEs also contain
cryptographic hardware to speed up the execution
of cryptographic calculations. Typical interfaces
to access the software of a smartcard are 8 pin
plated contacts (banking cards), NFC (wireless
banking cards) or soldering points (embedded SE).
While older secure element hardware was produced for special use cases, modern SEs contain
an operating system with a standardized programming interface. An entity which wants to use
secure elements – for example a bank – can develop an applet for their use case, deploy it to a number of secure elements, personalize the element
(by executing special functionality of the applet to
generate an ID or cryptographic secrets) and disable the programming functionality to guarantee
data and application security. Only the issuer or a
trusted third party can reprogram the secure element using cryptographically secured methods
provided by the card operating system.
The most widespread programming interface
for SEs is JavaCard. JavaCard is a slimmed-down
Java variant specifically tailored to the security needs and low resources of a secure element.
Special methods of persistence and transaction
support are integrated in the language, and cryptographic methods are supported. Communication
between a card terminal and the application on
the card is standardized as ISO 7816. The protocol
is a simple serial request/answer protocol which
utilizes Application Protocol Data Units (APDU) to
transfer information. A subset of these APDUs are
standardized, others can be used in proprietary
For our project we analyzed different programmable models of SEs which can be used in combination with a smartphone. One requirement was
that the SE contains two separate interfaces, an
NFC interface to communicate to the access point
and an interface to communicate with the smartphone. Also, the application on the card must have
the possibility to determine which communication channel is used to prevent the execution of
the authentication method by software running
on the smartphone CPU. We found such an SE in
the form of a microSD card with a built-in NFC
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
Figure 6: Sequence diagram of an access request using the secure element solution for secure authentication
transceiver: the CredenSE 2.10J developed by DeviceFidelity [3]. The SE embedded in this microSD
card can be accessed from a mobile phone through
a specific API.
PACS with a microSD-SE
In the PACS we designed and implemented we
not only needed to authenticate the smartphone,
but also at the same time to transfer authorization data from the server to the access point. To
achieve this goal, we implemented a JavaCard applet which allows to authenticate the card to the
access point as well as to relay data to the smartphone and subsequently to the server as shown in
Figure 5.
All connections to the SE have to be initiated
by either the smartphone or the access point, and
it’s not possible for the SE to communicate with
both endpoints at the same time. Due to these circumstances we implemented a stateful JavaCard
applet to relay the information to the smartphone
and back. The NFC transceiver of the SE we used
in the project has to be activated by an application
running on the smartphone using a driver software. The driver software also allows to register
a callback listener which gets notified when the
secure element NFC transceiver enters or leaves
the electromagnetic field of a NFC reader.
To use the PACS, the end-user has to activate
the NFC transceiver of the SE by using the smartphone application which we developed. In the
next few paragraphs we will describe the different phases of the process which is used to authenticate and authorize a phone to an access point.
The transaction is also described as sequence diagram in Figure 6.
In the first phase of the process, after the
smartphone user activates the NFC interface and
touches the access point, the access point initiates the connection and sends the authorization
and authentication request to the JavaCard applet which enters a second state. The access point
then has to disable the NFC field to signal to the
smartphone application that the first phase of the
process is finished.
In the second phase of the process, the smartphone application initiates the connection to the
SE after having received the callback that the NFC
field of the reader is left (because the reader shut
down the field). The smartphone application establishes a connection to the SE and sends a command to ask for the authorization request. While
still holding the connection to the SE, this request
is forwarded to the server by the smartphone application and – after having received the authorization answer from the server – the the answer is
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
Figure 7: Hardware relay attack: An attacker uses two smartphones to extend the reach of the NFC transaction
sent back to the JavaCard applet which stores it
and enters the third state. The smartphone now
utilizes the driver software of the SE to enable
the NFC transceiver and the access point gets a
chance to detect the presence of the secure element.
In the third phase, the connection is again initiated by the access point. The access point can
now read the answers for both the authentication
and authorization requests sent in the first phase.
The answer to the authorization request is the one
sent by the smartphone in phase 2, the answer
to the authentication request is computed by the
JavaCard applet at this point in time. With these
answers the access point has all necessary information to validate the authentication and authorization of the smartphone.
The authentication request is transferred by
NFC directly from the access point to the SE.
Since the SE is responsible for creating the authentication response and since the answer is
directly transferred back to the access point by
NFC, an attacker controlling the smartphone software cannot execute any public key operations
nor read the private key. With the SE not allowing
such operations by the smartphone, software relay attacks as described in the section „Attacking
Authentication“ are not possible. By intercepting
the connection between the access point and the
secure element, an attacker with sufficient infrastructure can execute a hardware relay attack as
described in the next section.
The transaction duration is increased by using
this method because of the way the callback on
NFC field events is implemented in the software
driver. Internal in the driver, a loop checks the
NFC field status every 0.5 seconds and notifies the
callback listener on change of the NFC field status. We manage to trick the driver into performing this check every 0.1 seconds. With this change
in frequency, the additional time compared to a
software-only solution (thus, the maximal time
needed until the callback is called plus the time
needed for turning off and on the NFC transceiver
of the secure element) is around 150 ms.
Physical Attacks
In this section we describe attacks where an attacker needs to gain physical access to the smartphone used in the PACS. There are two main at-
tacks in this category: theft and the so called
hardware relay attack [7]. Both of these attacks
are also possible with a classic NFC card-based
To execute a hardware relay attack, an attacker needs two NFC-capable smartphones. These
smartphones are connected – for example via Internet – and act as a proxy for NFC-transmitted
data. With this setup, an attacker can extend the
reach of the NFC transaction. To use this often-described attack [7, 10. 2. 11], the attacker places one
of the smartphones at the reader, and the other on
the victim’s smartphone (see Figure 7). The smartphone placed at the access point now forwards all
requests sent by the reader to the second attacker
smartphone. The requests then get forwarded to
the attacked smartphone and the answers are sent
back using the same way.
When a smartphone is stolen, the attacker has
the same possibilities as with the hardware relay attack (except that the relay infrastructure
is not necessary). In our PACS, physical attacks
and theft are addressed with the following two
risk-reducing factors.
First, as the authorization data is loaded from
the server at access time, an attacker cannot use
a stolen smartphone after the theft was detected
and the access rights got revoked server-side.
Second, the end-user needs to manually start
the NFC transaction. For this, he has to unlock
the smartphone and use a button inside of an installed application (but it’s also possible to use
a widget to place this button on the home screen
of the smartphone). Because of the limited possibilities of the used secure element it’s necessary
that the SEs NFC interface is activated prior to a
transaction, but the decision that this has to be
manually done by the end user is a security feature. The end user (or the institution issuing the
smartphone) can decide to configure security
features like a display lock on the smartphone to
complicate unauthorized use of the smartphone.
If an attacker wants to perform a physical attack,
he needs to activate the NFC interface of the secure element, and thus first needs to be able to
operate the smartphone application.
However, if it is possible for an attacker to
attack a smartphone at the same time physically and digitally, he can start an NFC transaction
software-wise and use the NFC connection either
in a hardware relay attack or directly at the access point. Such an attack works as long as it is
not detected and the access rights are still valid on the server. To mitigate the effects of such
an attack, a PACS needs to rely on additional authentication technologies beyond simply checking
the ownership of a smartphone. Examples of such
technologies are checks of biometric features like
fingerprints or checks of knowledge like a PIN at
the access point.
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
UICC or embedded
SE & software
Third party independence
(+) no dependency
(+) no dependency
(+) no dependency
Key security
(security of key storage)
(+) secure
(+) secure
(0) device dependent
(+) secure
Hardware relay attack
(theft / physical security)
(–) always as NFC is
always on
(–) always as NFC is
always on
(+) on unlocked device
(+) after user interaction
Software relay attack
(software proxy)
(+) not possible
(+) not possible
(–) insecure
(+) secure
Time to open
(+) system dependent
(+) system dependent
(+) same performance
as card
(0) like HCE + 150 ms
Online authorization
(for online access points)
(–) not possible
(0) system dependent
(+) possible
(+) possible
Offine access rights
(for online smartphones)
(–) terminal
(0) over MNO or
(+) online over
(+) online over
Table 1: Comparison between different PACS
In the case that an attacker manages to perform a hardware relay attack he can read and manipulate the data sent in between the access point
and the smartphone. The design of the protocol
(as discussed in the section „Protocol Design“)
guarantees that an attacker cannot manipulate
the data undetected. Any data the attacker can
read while eavesdropping this connection is either public, valid for only one transaction or of no
added value. In particular the information whether access is granted for the attacked smartphone
at the time of the interception has no added value
as the attacker could simply watch if the physical
access point allows access or not.
PACS Comparison
A classical PACS works with cards, but there exist
systems where the card is emulated by a UICC-SE
(SIM card) or an SE embedded in a smartphone.
In this paper we have shown how such a smartphone-based PACS can be implemented independent of mobile network operators, the services of
a trusted service managers and handset manufacturers, both with HCE and with a microSD-SE.
In this section we compare the following four
PACS variants (these variants correspond to the
columns in Table 1).
• Card: With this variant we refer to a card-only solution. Such a system could be based on
Mifare DESFire cards which are ISO 14443-4
compliant and which are accessible over NFC.
• SE: This variant stands for all solutions which
depend on third parties like MNOs, TSMs or
handset manufacturers. Examples are the
solution from Kaba [9] which is hosted by Legic
Connect or Tapit, a solution from Swisscom
[16]. Tapit will be denounced by the end of 2015.
• HCE: This is the solution described in the section „Protocol Design“ which is implemented
without using a SE.
• microSD-SE: The microSD-SE-approach uses
a separate SE to solve some security problems
of a HCE-only solution as shown in the section
„Separate Secure Element“. In our project we
used a microSD-SE from DeviceFidelity.
We performed the comparison along the following
criteria, and for all implementation variants we
marked each criterion in Table 1 either with a +
sign (positive), a – sign (negative) or with a 0 (neutral).
• Third party independence: Except for the
SE-variant, all other variants are independent
of a third party, i.e. the PACS service provider has full control over the technology and can
provide its own applications.
• Key security: Under this criterion we compared
how secure user credentials can be stored. For
the HCE variant such credentials can be stored
in a hardware-based key store if such a feature
is provided by the phone hardware.
• Hardware relay attack: A hardware relay attack can be executed if the (emulated) card is
accessible without further interaction. This is
obviously the case for cards, but also for the
SE-variant (for usability reasons, otherwise
the access token could not be used if the phone
has been turned off). For the HCE and the microSD-SE variants the hardware relay attack
can only be executed if the device has been
unlocked (and a special application has been
started in addition for the microSD-SE variant). HCE on the other hand is vulnerable by
this attack.
• Software relay attack: Obviously the card-only variant is immune to software attacks, and
for the SE-variant the software relay attack is
also not possible if the system is implemented
properly and does not allow that private key
operations are executed from the phone host.
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
used for the HCE variant, the higher financial investment directly correlates to higher security.
Related Work
Figure 8: Implementation of our PACS in action
This is the condition which is also met by the
microSD-SE which we used in the implementation of our project.
• Time to open: We expect that all solutions
show a comparable timing, except for the microSD-SE variant which takes about 150 ms
longer than the HCE variant.
• Online authorization: The online authorization
is possible for the HCE and the microSD-SE approaches. We don’t know any systems where an
UICC-SE or an embedded SE is used while also
providing online authorization data via NFC,
and we don’t know if all requirements are met
to enable such an implementation.
• Offline access rights: Although we focused on
online authorization in this paper, our solution can also be used if the smartphone is not
connected to the access server. In this case an
access token is sent to the access point in response to an access request. These tokens are
renewed regularly and automatically as soon
as the smartphone is connected. For card-only systems access rights can be stored on the
cards (in addition to the authentication credentials), but then the user has to reload this
card at specific terminals. For the UICC-SE
approach a reload of access tokens can be performed over a terminal or over MNO specific
technologies. It would also be possible to load
access rights to an UICC-SE using the smartphone’s internet connection, but the SE would
have to distinguish the access paths in order to
prevent the software relay attack.
According to the criteria we used in this comparison the microSD-SE approach has a lot of advantages in the security and usability criteria.
Financially, the microSD approach is relatively
expensive since the cards need to be bought for
every user. As the same infrastructure can be
Several NFC-based access control systems for
smartphones have been described and implemented, but most of them are not public. NFC-based
PACS typically either use a UICC-SE [9,16] or they
are HCE-based [17].
Before HCE was available in the Android
framework, an alternative was to use the inverse
reader mode [15]. Systems that adopted this approach are, for example, AirKey from EVVA and
NFC Porter from IMA. These systems both store
their credentials on the mobile phone for offline
use [13].
Most UICC-SE solutions follow the online access point model described in the section „PACS
Models“, i.e. the access points are typically connected to the authentication server, and over these
connected access points the data stored on the SE
can be updated securely.
All HCE-based solutions suffer from possible
software relay attacks. The same holds for all
other access control solutions which store the
credentials in a SE, but use other communication
technologies like Bluetooth Smart (BLE) to connect to the access point and to the authentication
server and thus use an application running on the
smartphone to move authentication data. A system which follows this approach is HID’s Mobile
Access . The relay attack problem is often mitigated by additional security checks such as the need
to enter a PIN or the check of biometric features
directly at the access point.
The general structure of our microSD-SE based
solution follows the model described in [4], but
that model explicitly excludes relay attacks as the
focus is on delegatable authentication for NFC-enabled smartphones. To mitigate relay attacks
distance-bounding techniques are proposed.
These techniques determine an upper bound on
the round-trip time of request-response pairs [5].
However, this approach cannot be applied to online solutions where the access server has to be
connected before the response is sent back to the
access point.
We have presented a smartphone-based PACS in
which the access points communicate with the access server over the smartphone connected to the
access point. This relay approach allows different
attacks, in particular the hardware- and the software relay attack. The hardware relay attack can
be mitigated by protecting the smartphone with a
screen lock.
IMVS Fokus Report 2015
We have shown that the software relay attack
can be prevented with a microSD-based SE which
communicates directly to the access point. For the
online authorization the microSD-SE must be able
to communicate with the server over the smartphone. Our contribution is to show that such an
approach can be implemented and that the speed
is still acceptable. A picture of the implemented
solution in action is shown in Figure 8.
A drawback of the microSD-SE approach beyond additional costs is that the microSD-card is
typically provisioned by a single service provider (in our case this would be the provider of the
PACS). An end user wanting to use microSD-SE
based PACS from multiple service providers would
have to switch microSD-cards.
A PACS usually has to support several levels
of security. With the solution presented in this
paper, the same infrastructure and the same protocols can be used for the HCE as well as the microSD-SE variants. The less secure HCE variant
could be rolled out to most of the users who have
access to a building, and users having access to
high security areas inside that building could use
the microSD-SE based solution.
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and certied JavaCard SE in a MicroSD. 2013. http://devifi.netfirms.
A. Dmitrienko, A.-R. Sadeghi, S. Tamrakar, and C. Wachsmann.
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smartphones. In International Conference on Trust & Trustworthy
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phones. IACR Cryptology ePrint Archive, Report 2011/618, 2011.
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report, UL Transaction Security, 2014.
Kaba. Mobile access solutions.
We would like to thank the Swiss Commission
for Technology and Innovation (CTI) which cofinanced this project. Many thanks also go to Carlo
Nicola at FHNW for his help in the protocol design
and to Markus Freund at Bixi for the vital task of
implementing the access point part of the protocol.
[10] E. Lee. NFC Hacking: The Easy Way, 2011.
[11] M. Maass, U. Müller, T. Schons, D. Wegemer, and M. Schulz.
NFCGate: An NFC Relay Application for Android. In Proceedings
of the 8th ACM Conference on Security & Privacy in Wireless and
Mobile Networks, WiSec '15, New York, NY, USA, 2015.
[12] NFC World. NFC phones: The denitive list. http://www.nfcworld.
com/nfc-phones-list. Last updated on 21 August 2015.
[13] M. Roland and J. Langer. Comparison of the usability and security
of NFC's dierent operating modes in mobile devices. e&i Elektrotechnik und Informationstechnik, 130(7):201-206, 2013.
[14] M. Roland, J. Langer, and J. Scharinger. Applying relay attacks
to google wallet. In 5th International Workshop on Near Field
Communication (NFC), pages 1-6, Feb 2013.
[15] C. Saminger, S. Grunberger, and J. Langer. An NFC ticketing
system with a new approach of an inverse reader mode. In 5th
International Workshop on Near Field Communication (NFC), Feb
[16] Swisscom. The swiss wallet of tomorrow.
[17] Telcred AB. A new approach to access control.
Accessed: 2015-08-20.
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