When it comes to hardware hacking, Black Hat is on a roll. Last year, it was insulin pumps. This year, software engineer Cody Brocious demonstrated how he could hack certain types of hotel locks made by Onity, which claims about 50% of the hotel lock market share, with between 4 million and 10 million such locks in circulation.
As with most security hardware, such locks are expensive, designed to be infrequently replaced, and (in the case of the model hacked by Brocious) packaged with firmware that can't be updated. Brocious noted that it took him six to nine months to reverse-engineer the system. His initial goal was to build a better system, but when he quickly found a way to defeat the locks he scuttled his commercial initiative. "The vulnerability itself is very, very simple," he said. Using his exploit to unlock the locks isn't always reliable and still requires further refinement to overcome tricky data-communication timing issues, but it only requires $40 in parts.
Cody Brocious photograph by Mathew J. Schwartz.