WJTV News Channel 12 - Stolen RFID cards give criminals easy access to businesses

Stolen RFID cards give criminals easy access to businesses

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It is easy to think the latest technology is making our lives safer, but a WNCN Investigates report will shatter that belief.

Thieves have discovered a high tech master key that can unlock electronically-secured doors and all it takes it a couple of seconds.

Security consultant Walt Augustinowicz of Identity Stronghold was able to open the electronically controlled access door at WNCN seconds after shaking reporter Steve Sbraccia's hand.

Augustinowicz did it with a cellphone-sized device housed in a protective case that made it look like a smartphone.

Inside that case are a series of inexpensive and readily available components that can steal the information from your electronic access badge within seconds.

"All I did was put it near your wallet and I soon as I saw a blink (on his device) I knew I had your card," said Augustinowicz.

That's because access cards use RFID, or radio-frequency identification technology.

The same way Augustinowicz swiped Sbraccia's card information is how he cloned it seconds later.

"All I have to do is hold my button down (on his device) and boom this is now a copy," he said pointing to a blank white card in his hand.

Those access cards are everywhere, including some of the country's best known buildings.

WNCN Investigates found someone with an access card to the Capitol in Washington D.C.Augustinowicz was able to clone it in a matter of seconds. A computer server wouldn't know the difference between the real owner of the card and the identity thief.

We took Augustinowicz to downtown Raleigh where many people walk around with company badges.

Maureen Prosser gave permission to demonstrate the easy access RFID thieves have to access cards.

As Augustinowicz swiped his device by her ID badge hanging by her side, he showed Prosser how a thief could make a copy of her access card as he stood next to her in a crowd or walked slowly by her.

Prosser then took us to her office building where Augustinowicz showed her the cloned access card worked.

"Right now, no one can get in this building," Augustinowicz told her, pulling on the locked door handle.  But he said gaining access to this building is as easy as walking by someone on the street.

"To know my identity could be manipulated that easily is a little intimidating,'' Prosser said.

There are billions of access cards posing security risks from cloning.

"You could buy the equipment inside here for $50 on line," said Augustinowicz. "Its been known for several years; just most people using the system don't know it, but hackers have all known this," he said.

In fact, access card makers like HID Global have issued best practices guides which warn people not wear badges in prominent view on the streets and to use RFID shielding devices for their access cards.

But right kind of shielding is needed.

Metal security wallets have been proven to not always work. In our tests, Augustinowicz could still read the access card through a metal wallet that touted itself as a protective device.

"It has to be designed for the card you're shielding," he said.

These same RFID access cards are also being used in several Wake County schools.

Benita Taylor also gave permission to clone her company's access card. She was with her school-aged son at the time. Taylor was worried about her son's safety at a school whose access card could be cloned.

"I would be pretty concerned,'' said Taylor. She said she hoped the schools with RFID cards would have redundant safety procedures.

"Hopefully, they will have a dual method of some kind," said Taylor.

Wake County Public Schools released a statement in response to our inquiry about cloning RIFD cards.

"It is illegal to use any device to breech our security system and then it becomes a law enforcement matter, " said school spokeswoman Renee McCoy.

In North Carolina our research showed, it is not illegal to clone access cards, but the fraudulent use of a cloned card is a crime.

Protect Yourself

The following companies offer devices at various prices that can protect your access card from RFID thieves:

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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