By K.C. Jones
December 27, 2007
A New York City software engineer managed to gain access to the
operating system for a touch-screen display available in the back seat
of many Manhattan taxicabs and also used it to connect to the Internet.
But no sensitive information or critical systems were compromised,
according to the display systems vendor.
The display is used to present short videos and ads to taxi riders, and
can be used to pay the taxi fare with a credit card. A VeriFone
Transportation Systems spokesman told InformationWeek Thursday that
passengers' credit card data is encrypted and isn't stored locally, so
it wasn't compromised. He also said the cab had an outdated modem, used
while the city tested the display systems.
Billy Chasen posted photos on his blog earlier this month showing that
he accessed a New York City cab's video display system files after
seeing an error message on the screen. The artist and software engineer
explained in the blog that he managed to open Internet Explorer,
launched the Connection Wizard, selected aSprint (NYSE: S) card for a
dial-up connection, and accessed Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE)'s Web site.
Chasen said he opened files and "had full administrative access to
everything on the PC."
"It was not only a security flaw, but people also pay with the screen if
they use a credit card," he said, adding the information could be stored
"What I did was a much bigger problem than GPS tracking," he said.
"You're essentially giving strangers access to a computer that is shared
with hundreds of customers."
Chasen went on to say that he could have installed software from the
The VeriFone spokesman, however, said Chasen had merely accessed media
files, and passengers could not gain control of sensitive information.
"It's a Windows-based system, so I could never say never," he said. "But
there is no credit card information stored in the system."
The spokesman said the meter is integrated into the display system but
not reliant upon it, so errors and unauthorized access would not affect
meter functioning. He also pointed out that the New York City Taxi and
Limousine Commission strictly regulates fares and meters.
"If the meters weren't functioning right, the TLC would be all over it,"
He also responded on Chasen's blog, saying VeriFone investigated the
incident, the old modem was replaced, and users cannot access editing
tools on the system.
The new taxi technology systems, which are required for all New York
cabs, generated controversy earlier this year and prompted some cab
drivers to protest because they feared they would be monitored and
tracked by GPS technology.
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