You may have never heard of them, but a company named Assa Abloy is a global provider of electronic key and hotel locking systems, to the tune of 400,000 buildings in roughly 166 countries. And in early 2017, two employees of F-Secure, an international cybersecurity firm, unfortunately discovered that due to a design flaw in the company’s older software, called Vision, the electronic locks of all those millions of hotel rooms worldwide were vulnerable to hackers.
Of course, people have been hacking electronic keys for years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. But this case was different.
The hack designed by the two F-Secure employees was exceptional because instead of taking time to get go through all the possible codes to get the right one, this technique could get all the information it needed in just a minute or two. Plus they were able to clone anyone’s key – i.e. a manager’s, housekeeping’s, or a guest’s – to devise a master key card that could potentially open virtually anything in the hotel. And the cloning process could be done in as quickly as an elevator ride.
But wait…there’s more!
The hotel’s software could also potentially be exploited within the same network to get access to sensitive customer data. So in the wrong hands, someone could download guest data or create, delete, and modify guest entries, as per F-Secure. By unplugging the network cable from a hotel front desk computer, the F-Secure employees discovered they were able to get complete access to the server – that’s where all the content relevant to the keys is kept, including personal assignments of each key.
Fortunately, F-Secure is not a malicious company; they told Assa Abloy about the software flaw and worked closely with them for a year in order to develop a solution that couldn’t be easily bypassed.
In a statement, F-Secure thanked Assa Abloy for helping them work out a solution to the problem. “Because of their diligence and willingness to address the problems identified by our research, the hospitality world is now a safer place,” said an F-Secure spokesman.
Unfortunately, since Vision doens’t update via the internet, it’s up to each individual hotel to install the patch. The firm is, of course, urging every hotel still using the older Vision system to deploy the patch to keep their guests, and their property, safe. Fingers crossed that the next time you stay in a hotel using this system, the patch has been installed!
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