Can’t Touch This: Cloning Any Android HCE Contactless Card


There is no doubt that mobile contactless payments has grown exponentially and Host Card Emulation – the possibility to emulate payment cards on a mobile device, without dependency on special Secure Element hardware, has also significantly boosted the number of applications.

HCE support for Android is usually delivered as an external, certified “black-box” library to compile in your application. Obviously vendors promise “highest level of security” – including: card data tokenization, “secure element in the cloud”, device fingerprinting, phone unlock requirement, code obfuscation, additional authorization, etc. For mobile payments, they often successfully convince implementing bank that it is technically impossible to “clone” a virtual card from owner’s device to another one.

Based on several assessments, we have noticed that even IT security representatives were surprised by the possibilities of mobile malware to attack the process. Not to mention risk departments, which took into consideration only a few limited-value fraudulent transactions made by an accidental thief using a stolen phone. Therefore, delivering the PoC demo of card cloning to a different device, every time caused confusion and uncertainty the least. Furthermore, proving that the intruder is also able to renew virtual card tokens, or make payments for higher amounts, turned out to be a shock.

With introduction of root-exploiting financial malware, they already have technical means to attack HCE. Therefore it is now crucial to understand associated risks, and properly plan mitigation ahead.  This presentation will start with a short introduction on HCE – including “ISIS”‘s role in its complicated history, current coverage and growth predictions, basics of operation, typical infrastructure and differences in hardware Secure Element. We will cover several possibilities to attack HCE  including a universal method of cloning any Android contactless payment (including Google’s own Android Pay) to a different device. Several layers of security mechanisms to mitigate the risk will be presented along with some statistics on methods used by current applications. The audience will leave with a deep understanding of HCE technology and its limitations, along with exemplary solutions to potential problems.

Location: Track 2 Date: April 13, 2017 Time: 11:45 am - 12:45 pm Slawomir Jasek