Banks attempt to suppress maths student's exposé of chip and pin

Cambridge computer scientists have become embroiled in angry exchanges with Britain's banks and credit card lenders, accusing them of bullying and trying to "censor" a PhD student who was exposing flaws in chip-and-pin machines.

A leading Cambridge academic has now written to bankers' representatives demanding that they stop pressing for the removal of a student's doctorate work from the web.

Professor Ross Anderson, from Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory, has previously researched glitches in chip-and-pin banking that allow withdrawals to be made from accounts without needing to know the holder's PIN. As part of his thesis work, one of his students, Omar Choudary, exposed how easy it was to make such a withdrawal.

Then the UK Cards Association, a trade body representing leading banking organisations, approached the university asking it to remove the thesis from his website, which is accessible through a university site.

Melanie Johnson, who chairs UKCA, argued that the web publication "oversteps the boundaries of what constitutes reasonable disclosure" by giving too much detail on how the chip-and-pin system could be breached.

Professor Anderson said her request "showed a misconception of what universities are and how we work... You seem to think that we might censor a student's thesis – which is lawful and already in the public domain – simply because a powerful interest group finds it inconvenient," he said.

"Cambridge is the university of Erasmus, of Newton and of Darwin. Censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values."

He added: "I have authorised the thesis to be issued as a computer laboratory technical report. This will make it easier for people to find and to cite, and will ensure that its presence on our website is permanent." He rejected her allegation that the student was encouraging fraud by giving details of a blueprint for a device which is alleged to exploit a loophole in the security of chip-and-pin technology.

In her letter, which was sent to the university's head of communications, Ms Johnson also claimed that the police had expressed concern that the student was "allowed to falsify a transaction ... without first warning the merchant".

Professor Anderson said the transaction had been carried out with the consent of the card owner, adding: "At no time was there any intent to commit fraud; the [card owner's] account was debited in due course ... and the merchant [from whom he had purchased goods] was paid."

He added: "You complain that the work may undermine public confidence in the payments system. What will support confidence in the payments system is evidence that the banks are frank and honest in admitting weaknesses when they are exposed, and diligent in affecting the necessary remedies.

"Your letter shows that ... your member banks do their lamentable best to deprecate the work of those outside their cosy club and indeed to censor it."

Professor Anderson told The Independent: "Everyone in the university is behind us on this one. The thesis was on Omar Choudary's website and there is no way we can allow this to be censored."

He added that only Barclays had taken action to rectify the problem since the potential for abuse was exposed by researchers on a BBC Newsnight programme several months ago.

No one was available for comment at the UK Cards Association yesterday. The organisation allows membership to anyone responsible for at least 5 per cent of credit transactions.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistants...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker