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Hacking electronic-toll systems

Security expert explains how data can be stolen off electronic toll devices and how people can be tracked in real time.

LAS VEGAS--Electronic toll systems like FasTrak and E-ZPass may be convenient for drivers, but they are rife with privacy risks, a security expert said Wednesday at the Black Hat 2008 security conference.

Strangers with the right transponder reader walking through a parking lot can steal the ID number off the transponders that are visible through the windshield, put the data on their devices and pass through bridge and other tolls for free, with the victim paying the bill, according to Nate Lawson, principal of security consultancy Root Labs.

The transponder ID, which lacks encryption, could be wiped and switched with that of a device from a different car used in a crime, such as for alibi purposes, he said.

The e-toll systems also pose a risk in that a driver's movements could be tracked in real time, and e-toll operators have already been served with subpoenas seeking customer information, Lawson said.

Although the ID is not personally identifiable, it can be linked in the back-end database to customer information like name, driver's license, and credit card number, he said.

The FasTrak system, used in the San Francisco Bay Area, has said it will improve the security, but it is difficult to make a system secure after the fact, Lawson said. So, he is designing a FasTrak Privacy Kit that people can use to make their transponders more secure.

Basically, the kit will allow someone to put a "kill switch" on their transponder so the ID can't be read unless the device is turned on with a special button. The system is only vulnerable while it is on.

Or, you could just do what I do, and keep the device in the mylar pouch it comes in when you buy it and that will protect the data.

Click here for full coverage of Black Hat 2008.

In this video Lawson explains why consumers should be wary of using electronic-toll systems: