ID card security: Spain is facing chaos over chip crypto flaws

With the security of its 60 million national ID smartcards in question, Spain faces some tough choices.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

When security researchers discovered last month that secure hardware made by Germany's Infineon Technologies was not so secure after all, it was clear that there would be major implications.

There are a lot of smartcards and other devices out there with Infineon's chips in them, and the 'ROCA' flaw in Infineon's key pair-generation algorithm made it possible for someone to discover a target's private key just by knowing what their public key was.

Now, in an analogous situation to that recently experienced in Estonia, Spain seems to be having a tough -- and arguably more chaotic -- time dealing with the implications for its national identity smartcards.

Estonia's big security flaw only affected around 760,000 cards, although Estonians genuinely use their cards for a great variety of public and private services.

Against that figure, there are around 60 million identity smartcards in Spain. However, according to an El País article, Spaniards were only using theirs in 0.02 percent of public-service engagements when surveyed a few years back.

Dan Cvrcek is the CEO at security firm Enigma Bridge, which was co-founded by researchers who identified the ROCA flaw.

He told ZDNet that exploitation of the flaw could allow attackers to revert or invalidate contracts that people have signed, in part because the Spanish don't use timestamps for very important signatures.

"I still don't think you can do a large-scale attack that would target a lot of people," Cvrcek said.

However, he added, the cost of an individual attack has "rapidly decreased". The assumption used to be that an attack cost between $20,000 and $40,000, but now it's "realistically $2,000".

Each card, known as the DNIe, has a chip that contains two certificates, one for identification and one for electronically signing things.

According to El Diario, the authorities responded to Infineon's October vulnerability disclosure by revoking, on November 6, all certificates issued since April 2015.

What's more, the authorities have stopped letting people sign things with the card at the self-service terminals found at many police stations.

That decision affects every card, not only those that have the flaw. However, people can still digitally sign documents online, using a small card reader that connects to their PCs.

The readers are needed to update the affected cards. But there is as yet no indication of when the affected cards will be updated. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be much official information out there at all, something which has not gone unnoticed in the Spanish tech press.

"Neither the police nor other public bodies have given more information through their social media accounts about the impact of the vulnerability and how to act if affected," said Xataka.

At least the Basque certificate authority Izenpe, which has revoked 30,000 certificates, has given information about how to replace them, the blog added.

Amid all that chaos, it also seems that some people with recently issued DNIe cards are still able to use them, despite the supposed revocation of their certificates. "I would not mind if it continued like this until there are new certificates," tweeted one user.

Toomas Ilves, the former president of Estonia, said earlier this week that he believed millions of people in countries had been affected by the ROCA flaw, but their authorities were remaining "silent".

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