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Smart Gun Hacked Using Magnets

The Armatix iP1 smart gun and RFID watch combo will set you back about $2,000 USD. Armatix claims the iP1 handgun cannot be fired without the Armatix iW1 Active RFID Watch in close proximity.

With less than $50 in parts, hacker Plore cracked the smart gun technology of the Armatix iP1 three separate ways, including using magnets. Simply holding a stack of strong magnets to the side of the Armatix iP1 allowed him to shoot the pistol.

Plore presented his hack at this year’s Def Con, the world’s longest running and largest underground hacking conference. Think “World Series of Hacking.”

Armatix managing director, Helmut Brandtner, doesn’t argue the point that their smart gun was hacked. He told CNN Tech the hack is outside the parameters of the gun’s design.

“[The iP1] had been focused on suppressing the ability to shoot when a third person (e.g. a child or a normal user) accesses the weapon in the heat of the moment and tries to use it. There was never the demand to avoid the usage by a well-prepared attacker or a skilled hacker,” said Brandtner.

Epic fail. A stack of three magnets held to the side of the gun is neither a well-prepared nor a skilled attack.

Jeremy Berke, in his January 19, 2016, Business Insider article explained Smart gun technology this way: “Smart guns are defined as any firearm capable of recognizing its owner in an effort to prevent unauthorized use. Different types of smart guns exist, but they fall into two major categories: radio-frequency identification-device (RFID) enabled and biometric fingerprint sensors.”

“The Armatix iP1 is probably the most well-known smart gun enabled through RFID technology. It’s paired with an RFID wristband, and if the shooter isn’t wearing the wristband, the gun won’t fire. But for a number of reasons, the iP1 hasn’t been a hot seller,” said Berke.

One reason, as Plore’s hacks reveal, is the technology is easily defeated.

Smart gun technology relies on two very insecure underlying technologies: RFID and biometric fingerprint scanners. Both are easily defeated. In 2008, Pablos Holman used $8 of equipment to read personal data from RFID credit cards. In 2014, a simple glue mold hacked a Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner.

Opposition to smart gun technology runs as wide as it runs deep. Many view it as a gun control measure, especially in the United States, where self-defence is one of the primary reasons to own a firearm.

Others view it as a reliability issue. Electronic components are more likely to fail than mechanical ones. Everything from oil, powder residue and gun cleaning solvents to temperature, humidity and environmental contaminates can cause electronics to fail.

No firearm manufacturer wants to be the first to face a wrongful death lawsuit because its smart gun failed when its owner needed it most.

The Armatix iP1’s many serious design flaws don’t help its cause. Those flaws include the 20 minutes required to pair the gun and watch for the first time; a minimum of seven push-button commands and twelve seconds before the gun can fire after being paired with the watch; failure to empty a single 10-round magazine without a failure to fire during testing; and the watch must be within ten inches of the gun during start up or the entire system fails.

Problem-plagued or not, politicians want smart gun technology. Language is a weapon, and never more so than inside the gun control arena. Billed as “personalized firearms” or “owner-authorized firearms,” the sales pitch is all about keeping kids safe.

“It’s for the children…”

“If it saves just one life…”

Worn-out mantras of the anti-gun movement insist smart guns save lives by stopping children from using them, thieves from stealing them, and gangs from using them.

New Jersey legislators passed the Childproof Handgun Law of 2002, which requires that three years after smart guns are available for sale anywhere in the United States, New Jersey firearm dealers can only sell firearms with smart gun technology.

Massachusetts Democrat Senator Ed Markey wanted to pass even stronger legislation nationwide in 2014, but failed. Markey’s law would make “personalization” technology mandatory for all firearms sold in the United States within two years of the bill becoming law. It would also mandate all older guns be retrofitted with smart gun technology. 

That thoroughly unworkable demand was undoubtedly the point. Any firearm unable to be retrofitted would be illegal and destroyed, thereby accomplishing what gun banners failed to carry out using other avenues.

Thankfully, emotion-packed slogans did not overcome common sense and Markey’s legislation ended up precisely where it belonged – the garbage can.

Joseph Steinberg, writing in Forbes Magazine, listed five excellent reasons why smart guns are dangerous to law-abiding citizens and therefore, are doomed to fail.

  1. Electronic devices require a power source, and smart guns are no exception. Without electricity, they cannot be fired.
  2. Computers malfunction and authentication technology is not perfect.
  3. At least one smart gun that has entered the marketplace requires the owner to wear a special watch; the gun will only fire if it is within a short distance of the watch.
  4. Some upcoming smart gun models use biometrics to authenticate users, but biometrics take time to process and are often inaccurate – especially when a user is under duress – as is likely going to be the case in any situation in which the user needs to brandish a gun.
  5. As Steinberg described in a previous article, smart guns may be susceptible to government tracking or jamming. Should private citizens really be confident the government will not want to keep tabs on their guns?

Even if you don’t believe the government would, some hacker undoubtedly will.

Smart gun technology may one day evolve to the point were it is useful. Until then, when failures are as common as dirt and all it takes to defeat a smart gun is a stack of three magnets or thirty seconds in a microwave oven, why would anyone trust it?


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