EZ Pass and the fast lane ....

Dave Emery die at dieconsulting.com
Fri Jul 2 18:34:20 PDT 2004

	Having been inspired by some subversive comments on cypherpunks,
I actually looked up the signaling format on the EZ-Pass toll
transponders used throughout the Northeast.  (On the Mass Pike, and most
roads and bridges in NYC and a number of other places around here).

	They are the little square white plastic devices that one 
attaches to the center of one's windshield near the mirror and which
exchange messages with an interrogator in the "FAST LANE" that debits
the tolls from an account refreshed by a credit card (or other forms of
payment).   They allow one to sail through the toll booths at about
15-20 mph without stopping and avoid the horrible nuisance of digging
out the right change while rolling along at 70 mph in heavy traffic.

	Turns out they use Manchester encoded on-off keying (EG old
fashioned pulsed rf  modulation) at 500 kilobits/second on a carrier
frequency of 915 mhz at a power a little under 1 mw (0 dbm).

	The 915 mhz is time shared - the units are interrogated by being
exposed to enough 915 mhz pulsed energy to activate a broadband video
detector looking at energy after a 915 mhz SAW filter (presumably around
-20 dbm or so).  They are triggered to respond by a 20 us pulse and will
chirp in response to between a 10 and 30 us pulse.   Anything longer and
shorter and they will not respond.

	The response comes about 100-150 us after the pulse and consists
of a burst of 256 bits followed by a 16 bit CRC.  No present idea what
preamble or post amble is present, but I guess finding this out merely
requires playing with a transponder and DSO/spectrum analyzer.

	Following the response but before the next interrogation the
interrogator can optionally send a write burst which also presumably
consists of 256 bits and CRC.

	Both the interrogators and transponders collect two valid
(correct) CRC bursts on multiple interrogations and compare bit for bit
before they decide they have seen a valid message.

	Apparently an EEPROM in the thing determines the partition
between fixed bits set at the factory (eg the unit ESN) and bits that
can get written into the unit by the interrogators.   This is intended
to allow interrogators at on ramps to write into the unit the ramp ID
for units at off ramps to use to compute the toll... (possibilities for
hacking here are obvious for the criminally inclined - one hopes the
system designers were thoughtful and used some kind of keyed hash).

	No mention is made of encryption or challenge response
authentication but I guess that may or may not be part of the design
(one would think it had better be, as picking off the ESN should be duck
soup with suitable gear if not encrypted).

	But what I have concluded is that it should be quite simple
to detect a response from one's transponder and activate a LED or
beeper, and hardly difficult to decode the traffic and display it
if it isn't encrypted.   A PIC and some simple rf hardware ought
to do the trick, even one of those LED flashers that detect cellphone
energy might prove to work.

	Perhaps someone more paranoid (or subversive) than I am will
follow up and actually build such a monitor and report whether there
are any interogations at OTHER than the expected places...

   Dave Emery N1PRE,  die at dieconsulting.com  DIE Consulting, Weston, Mass 02493

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