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

By: 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 Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

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.

18 reports cite this report:

ProdataKey (PDK) Access Company Profile on Aug 09, 2019
 Utah based ProdataKey touts low cost cloud access, wireless controllers, and no dealer required national distribution availability.  But how does...
How To Troubleshoot Wiegand Reader Problems - Inverted Wiring on Jul 16, 2019
Wiegand is the dominant method of connecting access readers, but problems can arise for installers. In fact, one of the most difficult reader...
Nortek Blue Pass Mobile Access Reader Tested on Jul 11, 2019
Nortek claims BluePass mobile readers are a 'more secure and easy to use approach to access', but our testing uncovered security problems and...
OSDP Access Control Guide on Jun 04, 2019
Access control readers and controllers need to communicate. While Wiegand has been the de facto standard for decades, OSDP aims to solve major...
Nortek Mobile Access Reader BluePass Examined on Feb 12, 2019
Nortek's Linear access control division claims to make mobile credentials "more secure and easier to use than ever before" with their BluePass...
Access Control Records Maintenance Guide on Jan 16, 2019
Weeding out old entries, turning off unused credentials, and updating who carries which credentials is as important as to maintaining security as...
HID: Stop Selling Cracked 125 kHz Credentials on Nov 05, 2018
HID should stop selling cracked 125 kHz access control credentials, that have been long cracked and can easily be copied by cheap cloners sold on...
ADI Pushing Cracked 125 kHz Access Control on Oct 25, 2018
Security distribution giant ADI commonly promotes access bundles featuring vulnerable and cracked 125 kHz card formats.  Even worse, they promote...
Replacing / Switching Access Control Systems Guide on Jun 28, 2018
Ripping out and replacing access control systems is hard for important reasons. Because users typically hold on to access control systems for as...
Favorite Access Control Credentials 2018 on Mar 22, 2018
In this 2018 access integrator statistics result, which credential type holds the favored spot to unlock access doors? More than 150 integrators...
New Whole Foods Installs Hackable Access Control (Upgraded) on Feb 21, 2018
Whole Foods has built a reputation for high quality. And their 2017 Amazon acquisition has increased that, plus added deep pockets for buying...
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...
Cracked 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

ZK Teco Atlas Access Control Tested on Aug 20, 2019
Who needs access specialists? China-based ZKTeco claims its newest access panel 'makes it very easy for anyone to learn and install access control...
Suprema Biometric Mass Leak Examined on Aug 19, 2019
While Suprema is rarely discussed even within the physical security market, the South Korean biometrics manufacturer made global news this past...
Biometrics Usage Statistics 2019 on Aug 13, 2019
Biometrics are commonly used in phones, but how frequently are they used for access? 150+ integrators told us how often they use biometrics,...
ProdataKey (PDK) Access Company Profile on Aug 09, 2019
 Utah based ProdataKey touts low cost cloud access, wireless controllers, and no dealer required national distribution availability.  But how does...
Axis Door Station A8207-VE Tested on Aug 07, 2019
Axis newest door station, the A8207-VE, claims to deliver "video surveillance, two-way communication, and access control" in a single device. But...
Avigilon Blue VSaaS Tested on Aug 05, 2019
Avigilon says Blue is a "powerful integrator cloud service platform", easy to set up and configure, quickly scale business, by leveraging cloud...
Dahua Wiretapping Vulnerability on Aug 02, 2019
IPVM has validated, with testing, and from Dahua, that many Dahua cameras have a wiretapping vulnerability. Even if the camera's audio has been...
Mobile Access Control Shootout - Farpointe, HID, Openpath, Nortek, Proxy on Jul 29, 2019
One of the biggest rising trends in access control is using phones as credentials but which offering is best? IPVM has tested five of the...
Responsibility Split Selecting Locks - Statistics on Jul 22, 2019
A heated access debate surrounds who should pick and install the locks. While responsible for selecting the control systems, integrators often...
Mobile Access Usage Statistics 2019 on Jul 18, 2019
The ability to use mobile phones as access credentials is one of the biggest trends in a market that historically has been slow in adopting new...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Dahua 4K Camera Shootout on Aug 20, 2019
Dahua's new Pro Series 4K N85CL5Z claims to "deliver superior images in all lighting and environmental conditions", but how does this compare to...
ZK Teco Atlas Access Control Tested on Aug 20, 2019
Who needs access specialists? China-based ZKTeco claims its newest access panel 'makes it very easy for anyone to learn and install access control...
Uniview Beats Intel In Trademark Lawsuit on Aug 19, 2019
Uniview has won a long-running trademark lawsuit brought by Intel, with Beijing's highest court reversing an earlier Intel win, centered on...
Verkada People And Face Analytics Tested on Aug 16, 2019
This week, Verkada released "People Analytics", including face analytics that they describe is a "game-changing feature" that "pushes the...
Dahua OEM Directory 2019 on Aug 16, 2019
US Government banned Dahua OEMs for dozens of companies. The following directory includes 40+ of those companies with a graphic and links to...
Installation Course - Register Now on Aug 15, 2019
Register Now for the September 2019 Video Surveillance Install Course. This is a unique installation course in a market where little practical...
Axis Suffers Outage, Provides Postmortem on Aug 15, 2019
This week, Axis suffered an outage impacting their website and cloud services. Inside this note, we examined what happened, what was impacted...
Hikvision Scrutinized In The Netherlands on Aug 15, 2019
Hikvision is facing unprecedented scrutiny in the Netherlands, at the same time the US government ban has taken effect. This week, a Dutch...
Axis 4K Camera Shootout 2019 on Aug 14, 2019
Axis' 4K Q3518-LVE claims the "best video quality possible", with Lightfinder super low light performance, Axis' high end Forensic WDR, and...

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