Hack Your Access Control With This $30 HID 125kHz Card Copier

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on May 01, 2017

You might have heard the stories or seen the YouTube videos of random people hacking electronic access control systems.

The tools that claim to do this are available widely, including at eBay for just $30.

We bought one of these cheap gadgets, shown below:

Inside, find our full test results, including a demo video of how easy it is to do, how widely these cards are deployed, and what steps you can take to cut the risk.

Easy HID Card Copies

Our demo video below shows how the $30 copier can be used in seconds to spoof HID 125kHz formatted access cards:

In our test, we copied multiple 125 kHz formats and tested them on multiple readers. While very cheap, the card copier did not malfunction or create corrupted copies in any of the 15+ cards we copied.

The Big Risk

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Indeed, to access control systems, these copies look identical to legit cards. The screenshot below, for our test shows that multiple copies are indistinguishable from the HID factory original:

The risk is that unauthorized copies can be made and used to gain access, with no outward sign or record of being a duplicate.

Formats Matter

One specific caveat to this test: not all card types and formats are at risk. This particular tool can be used to copy 125kHz card types, including popular HID Prox, ISOProx, and Prox II formats, and several others commonly used in access control such as EM4100 and AWID formats.

Specifically this tool cannot copy any 13.56MHz 'Smartcard' formats like HID iClass, or DESFire/MIFARE varieties. One of the major differences between those formats is 13.56MHz formats are encrypted and the data they hold must be first decoded by the companion reader with a specific 'key' value, otherwise the information they transmit in open air is heavily hashed and obscured.

However, most 125kHz formats are simply not encrypted at all. This means the process of copying them simply energizes the card, and stores the information it broadcasts. Card details are stored on the card exactly as the system uses them, so sensitive card numbers and facility codes are easy to pull from thin air.

Vulnerable 125 kHz Common

Despite the risks of unsecured 125 kHz cards and fobs, they are commonly used and even preferred by many installers and end users. In our Favorite Access Control Credentials 2016, those vulnerable types command 32% of the favorite votes:

Indeed, these credentials vulnerable to copiers are still used in tens of thousands of systems, with millions of issued credentials circulating every day.

Cheap & Easy To Get

The copier we tested was purchased for $30 shipped. Overall, the price of the unit tested was slightly higher due to the configuration of copying HID formats, but units as low as $10 can be purchased to copy basic EM4100 formats alone.

The kit we purchased was shipped with several blank re-writable keyfobs, but were not a suitable blank format needed to copy HID cards. So we bought a box of HID compatible card formats (T5557) for $0.35 cents each, for a total test package costing less than $45.

The chilling lesson is these products are very inexpensive, readily available, and sold by multiple vendors eager to ship next day with no questions asked to anyone, crook or honest.

How It Works

The device used to copy the cards works much the same way as normal card readers, with transceiver coil, power supply, IC chip, buzzer and even LEDs components shared by both:

Given the principal operation of contactless card readers, the copier excites the coil and delivers power wirelessly to the card, which then momentarily stores energy and then uses it to broadcast card details back to the copier. The image below shows a transparent example of a card, revealing all these components:

The copier includes a small amount of memory to store those details, and then pushes them to a blank card, writing them permanently as a copy.

Near Contact Required

One particular factor of this unit are cards to be copied must be held close to the copying antenna to work, a distance of less than 1". This is somewhat a benefit to cardholders, because someone bent on stealing and spoofing card details must be very close to do it.

However, the time needed to steal the information is fast - less than 5 seconds, and it is conceivable that someone could have card details copied and stolen without realizing it, especially in crowded groups of people.

But the method used by this device is available in other forms functional at longer distances - some claiming 5 feet range or more and often using modified off-the-shelf long range readers:

These longer range copiers are much more expensive ($500+ vs. $30), physically larger, and require more power than 2 AA batteries. However, carrying the components covertly in a backpack or briefcase means that those stealing cards can just blend in better with crowds.

Mitigating This Risk

So what can be done to prevent this exploit? The most straightforward step is to discontinue using HID (or any) 125 kHz cards, fobs, and readers and switch to encrypted and hashed 13.56 MHz formats. For more details, see our Hackable 125kHz Access Control Migration Guide.

Given current pricing, the higher frequency types are more expensive, but only a modest 15% - 25% more, and frequently offered at pricing the same or under the less secure 125 kHz types.

7 reports cite this report:

Nest Secure Alarm System Tested on Nov 16, 2017
Google's expansion continues, this time into home security with their Nest subsidiary's move into alarm systems. They paid more than a...
Selecting Access Control Readers Tutorial on Nov 09, 2017
Given the variety of types available, specifying access control readers can be a daunting process. However, focusing on a few key elements will...
Vulnerability Directory For Access Control Cards on Aug 14, 2017
Knowing which access credentials are insecure can be unclear, especially because most look and feel the same. Even the most insecure 125 kHz types...
Smartcard Copier Tested (13.56MHz) on Jul 05, 2017
Copying 125kHz cards is certainly easy, as our test results showed, but how about 13.56MHz smart cards? Are they more secure? IPVM focused on the...
Biometrics Pros and Cons For Electronic Access Control on Jun 26, 2017
Biometrics has been long sought as an alternative to the security risks of cards, pins and passwords. While biometrics has improved somewhat over...
Anti-Hack Access Card Shields Tested on May 26, 2017
Keeping your access control card information secure is becoming a big priority, especially since cheaper copiers can hack details easily. Multiple...
Hackable 125kHz Access Control Migration Guide on May 19, 2017
Despite being one of the most popular credentials, 125 kHz credentials are easily copied and insecure as we showed in our test results, video...
Comments (71): PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

PoE Powered Access Control Tutorial on Jan 19, 2018
Powering access control with Power over Ethernet is becoming increasingly common.  However, access requires more power than cameras, and the...
Chinese Government Hikvision Surveillance System On US Government Network on Jan 18, 2018
Hikvision, the Chinese government-owned manufacturer, has publicly claimed that their products are running on a US government network. Moreover,...
Hikvision Removed From US Army Base, Congressional Hearing Called on Jan 12, 2018
Hikvision has been removed from a US Army Base and a US congressional committee is planning a hearing on cybersecurity risks and specifically,...
CES 2018 Show Final Report on Jan 12, 2018
This is IPVM's final edition of our 2018 CES show report. Below are already numerous images and commentary, with more coming tomorrow.   CES is...
Hikvision Declares 'Never Click On Links In Emails' on Jan 09, 2018
Hikvision is stepping up its cybersecurity efforts with a clear recommendation - to never click on links in emails: It is a surprising change...
The Interceptor Aims To Fix Vulnerability In Millions of Alarm Systems on Jan 08, 2018
Security executive Jeffery Zwirn claims a 'catastrophic' flaw exists in 'millions of alarm systems', and dealers could be liable if not fixed. The...
Access Control Course Winter 2018 on Jan 04, 2018
Learn more below about the Winter 2018 IPVM Access Control Course. Register here. IPVM offers the most comprehensive access control course in the...
2018 Access Control Book Released on Jan 02, 2018
This is the best, most comprehensive access control book in the world, based on our unprecedented research and testing, significantly updated for...
Resolution Tutorial on Dec 28, 2017
Understanding video surveillance resolution can be surprisingly difficult and complex. While the word 'resolution' seems self-explanatory, its use...
Amazon Acquires Blink on Dec 22, 2017
Amazon has made their first significant acquisition in the connected home space, buying wire-free camera manufacturer Blink. We examine Amazon's...

Most Recent Industry Reports

PoE Powered Access Control Tutorial on Jan 19, 2018
Powering access control with Power over Ethernet is becoming increasingly common.  However, access requires more power than cameras, and the...
If You Have 4 Cameras, You Can Throw Them Away, If You Have 400, They Throw You Away on Jan 19, 2018
Do users care about anything but price? Do user care about cybersecurity? Do users care about trusting their supplier? These have become...
Chinese Government Hikvision Surveillance System On US Government Network on Jan 18, 2018
Hikvision, the Chinese government-owned manufacturer, has publicly claimed that their products are running on a US government network. Moreover,...
Winter 2018 Camera Course on Jan 18, 2018
Learn video surveillance and get certified. Register now. Save $50 on the course, ending this Thursday the 18th, plus get access to 2 class times...
VSaaS Usage Statistics 2018 on Jan 18, 2018
VSaaS has been a 'next big thing' for more than a decade. The prospect of managing, storing and streaming video from the cloud rather than...
Vivint Streety Video Strengthens Door Knocking on Jan 17, 2018
Vivint is famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) for mastering large scale door to door selling. The company has skyrocketed from a...
Axis: "It’s A Question Of Trust And Who You Want To Be Associated With" on Jan 17, 2018
Who do you trust? Who do you want to be associated with? Axis is raising hard questions to start 2018. In this note, we examine these questions,...
Software House Vulnerability Allows Inside Attacker To Open Doors on Jan 17, 2018
A vulnerability in Software House IP-ACM modules allows an attacker to potentially unlock doors, or perform other actions, on affected systems....
'Defiant' Hikvision 'Strikes Back' At WSJ And US on Jan 16, 2018
The fight is on. Hikvision and their owner, the Chinese government, 'strikes back' against the Wall Street Journal and US politicians raising...
The 2018 Surveillance Industry Guide on Jan 16, 2018
The 300 page, 2018 Video Surveillance Industry Guide, covering the key events and the future of the video surveillance market, is now available,...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact