Blogs: The Keefe Report
Smart Guns: Dude, You Hacked My Gun

Worried about having your credit card hacked? How about if a criminal, a hacker or even a government agency could turn your gun on or off anytime they wanted? Here's how RFID technology works and what might make it vulnerable in a so-called "smart gun."

by Mark Keefe
April 25, 2014

Worried about having your credit card hacked? How about if a criminal, a hacker or even a government agency could turn your gun on or off anytime they wanted? While so-called “smart guns” aren’t yet ready for prime time, the tools to hack one variety of them already exist; they just haven’t been applied to a product not yet actually on the market.

There are currently three main paths to “personalizing” firearms or so-called “smart guns”: fingerprint reader, biometric and Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID). RFID is used on products ranging from active wear at major retailers, to military shipping containers to car keys.

RFID can be active or passive, with the former requiring a power source, i.e., a battery. Think of a security badge around your neck as passive example and the device in your car that lifts the bar and allows you to go through a toll booth as an active example. Passive RFID chips have no power source of their own and start broadcasting data when in range of an emitter, typically very close.

Most RFID chips are not encrypted—some are even left writable—but encrypted RFID chips are made, although they cost more. Presumably so-called “smart gun” makers would be smart enough to provide encrypted RFID chips, but even those can be blocked or hacked. A dedicated or “brute-force” attack, according to some security experts, can hack just about any RFID tag in a relatively short period of time.

The firm getting the most attention for its so-called “smart gun” RFID technology is the German company Armatix GmbH. The company also does electronic locks intended for police agencies and station houses. According to its website, issue arms can be locked up and set on a timer that only allows them to be removed from a cradle when a specific signal is sent to an RFID chip. It can tell you when it was accessed and by whom. And it can remotely either lock or release all the guns so stored. Armatix also makes a nifty, extremely complex “mechatronic” chamber insert that blocks the chamber of a firearm.

But the product generating headlines is the prototype of Armatix’s blowback-operated .22 Long Rifle iP1 pistol and its accompanying iW1 active RFID watch. The watch has an RFID emitter the company claims must be within “an operating distance of up to 15 inches,” meaning if the gun is not in the hand wearing the watch, the gun is deactivated. So much for weak-handed shooting. And before the pistol can be “enabled” the user must first enter a PIN on the watch, which is said to have “extensive watch functions.”

Typically, an RFID signal requires proximity, and blocking or reducing its range can be as easy as wrapping either the passive or active elements in tinfoil. Even more interesting to me was watching a short web commercial for an active RFID jammer that prevents information from being transmitted from a credit card to a hacker’s receiver. Could such active countermeasures be used to prevent an armed citizen’s firearm from being enabled? Not being a hacker or having access to an RFID-equipped firearm, I don’t know. But it is a question worth asking.

Police officers, just like defensively-minded armed citizens, need to know that their firearms, especially their defensive handguns, are reliable 100 percent of the time. In a March 19, 2014, article, United Press International’s Christopher Haubursin described serious concerns police have about using such guns, Haubursin wrote: “Hacking poses a particularly big threat in high-pressure situations, [National Association of Police Organizations Executive Director Bill] Johnson said. If police electronic gun security information is stolen like Target’s customer credit card information was this year, he said, the results could be devastating.” It continued with, “It’s part of human nature,” Johnson said. “As soon as this technology comes in, there’ll be someone trying to defeat it.”

What is the future of such technology? How effective and reliable will it be? How easy will it be to hack? We simply do not know. The problem, though, comes when misguided politicians, who don’t know an ejection port from a USB port mandate the use of technology they don’t understand. Three states passed laws mandating the future use of so-called “smart guns” before a fully functioning prototype existed—let alone was tested by objective third parties. They may as well have mandated the use of a “Star Wars” laser blaster for all their understanding of how they actually will work.

Check out this video for a better visual of RFID.



June 24, 2014 04:33:00 am
I worked on the 787 and you can see all the problems that can pop up when incorporating the latest state of the art technology not to mention the cost. If you have problems do you need a software update? Who fixes a broken smart gun? They use RFID to take inventory on the 787, can someone with an RFID reader detect your concealed weapon? The new possibilities are endless.

June 24, 2014 01:46:01 am
Smart guns fit right into the gun registration scheme. From a central computer, 'they' can turn off any specific weapons or all weapons within a given area. Disarmament by agreement, I mean you have to agree to the terms of the software/hardware agreement or else you can't use it, right? Credible firearms manufacturers AND buyers [(]you & me[)] should not even consider actual purchases. There are however, a few sheep out there who will mistakenly support the concept, like the gunshop owner in New Jersey [(]I think[)] who was upset when social media turned on him when he tried to sell the handguns. Reminds me of a former S&W CEO who thought 'sensible' gun ownership was appropriate. Too bad the definition of sensible was not defined by the NRA. Practically ruined S&W.

June 23, 2014 06:32:49 am
I also worry that even if the RFID gun technology is not forced upon us, the Red, Blue, Green LED indicators might be mandated for guns anyway.

May 11, 2014 06:43:10 pm
If the government wants them so much than the government should be the first to be forced to used them.

May 10, 2014 02:39:39 am
so after you enter you name your mothers maiden name the state you were born and the name of your first pet on that stupid watch. Then and only then can you shoot that pice of junk. but its ok an attacker will wait for you to do all that. what a joke

May 08, 2014 06:27:10 pm
An EMP [(]electromagnetic pulse[)] generated in the area would render such a wussie guns useless. Give them to NSA, Homeland, and the UN smoothboys.

May 07, 2014 09:29:14 pm
Follow the money...

May 07, 2014 09:25:32 pm
Golly, what a great idea. At least I will be able to document the exact time I was blown away by my attacker!

Fell X
May 07, 2014 05:21:41 am
Gun conscious people will still create a demand for 'dumb' weaponry and suppliers will provide. Also, they WILL hack their own guns. So, I wouldn't worry too much for those 12 seconds activation or whatnot. However, those politicians that couldn't tell an USB port with a manual in front of them are indeed worrying me. I, for one, if in need of a gun, would buy a classic one right now and that's that.

Charles Ross
May 07, 2014 03:05:43 am
Buy two, maybe one will work !. I will save my batteries in an emergency for radio, flashlight and cell phone.

May 07, 2014 02:44:11 am
So I have to wear a watch that will be visible to criminals who will know that no watch means no gun. So much for concealed carry. And I guess I'll need to get a permit to wear a concealed watch under my long sleeve shirt.

Jim McJames
May 07, 2014 02:19:41 am
As stupid as we all know these not-so-smart guns to be, if they do hit the market then poor sales will cause their demise. Not even CA or NY would require their law enforcement officers to carry such a risky sidearm.

Barry Robe'rt
May 07, 2014 01:16:32 am
Two problems solved! Give one of these guns to every politician.

May 07, 2014 12:51:17 am
The gun lobby is pushing this. Think about it. You have one handgun in the house for protection. It's kept in the nightstand. For whatever reason you don't have access to it or you are struggling with the bad guy before you could get the handgun. Your wife manages to get to the nightstand and grabs the gun. She is able to get a clear shot at the bad guy and dispatches him. This of course happens with one of those old fashion, archaic handguns. Fast forward to future where we only are allowed to have 'smart' guns. Wife could not use hubby's digital gun. So instead of being able to get by with just one gun now a couple has to buy a his and hers model. This obviously increases gun sales. Who benefits from smart guns? Any guesses?

May 07, 2014 12:48:35 am
Just reading this makes me severely depressed.. Let me guess which 3 states already passed a mandatory 'future-use' of these 'smart-for-commie-guns': Could we please ask NY to stand up? - Thank you. Could we please ask CA to stand up? - Thank you. And CT as well.. there we go! All 3 anti-gun states!

May 07, 2014 12:26:37 am
I think this is a great idea! I propose we let the US Secret Service do some further testing with it, starting with the Presidential body guards... followed by all state senator's bodyguards... - Personally, I'm a old fashion kind of guy... and I'll stick with 'old' technology.

Jake Macz
May 06, 2014 11:29:08 pm
Smart guns are like smart DemoRats. Implausible.

Bob B.
May 06, 2014 10:19:01 pm
The first available versions should be issued as duty weapons to all the security that protects the politicians who thought this was a good idea in the first place. Wonder how they will feel then?

May 06, 2014 10:11:45 pm
Oh crap, someone is breaking into my house and has a firearm and the darn firearm won't work. Now I have to reboot it, never mind I'm dead!

May 06, 2014 10:04:31 pm
The pistol communicates with the bracelet via radio waves. Radio communication is very easily jammed. It's not that hard to figure out.

May 06, 2014 08:25:08 pm
After working twenty years in plant maintainence and fifteen years prior in electronics I can safely say that there are no sensors that can't be bypassed with a well placed jumper.

Alabama Mike
May 06, 2014 01:54:43 pm
Worse, you only need something to generate 'noise' to interfere with the RFID system. If the watch is generating the signal '5...6...7' and a noise generator nearby is generating '1...1...1' then what gets 'heard' by the receiver is '5...1...6...1...' It doesn't have to be decrypted at all.

May 04, 2014 02:08:29 pm
Who ever invented this is an ***. The only thing that is smart is not you. Probably a Obama fan.

Davis Thompson
May 04, 2014 12:23:19 pm
12 seconds to activate that thing. No thanks.

David Stone
May 03, 2014 11:14:23 pm
Now we have to watch out for right-handed men wearing watches on their RIGHT hands.

May 03, 2014 07:29:58 pm
More gun controls that make people expect a system to work by itself. Its a perfect storm equation set up to fail. The person who conceived the idea for this gun was probably a crook owning lots of throw away guns salivating at the idea that there's actually people stupid enough not only to buy this trash but to MANDATE it's use. Its hard to believe how close to reality Dilbert comics are.

May 03, 2014 05:59:33 pm
Mandate smart guns????? What part of 'shall not be infringed' do they not understand?

May 02, 2014 07:40:54 pm
SMASH someone breaks in then what? You see how long it took to activate that in the vid not to forget you or friends and family are in a panic to type in or even remember that crap . Death trap that's all it is good luck to who ever buys it.

May 02, 2014 06:08:20 pm
I am all for the ATF and EPA being the beta testers for these things, with a planned long-term study, with them having these weapons only, for the next 12 years.

May 02, 2014 06:04:03 pm
If they trust the technology enough for civilian use, why don't the military and LEO [(]starting by federal agencies[)] doesn't use it first.

Luis Torres
May 02, 2014 03:57:27 pm
Oh no my watch just fell in the middle of a gun fight. Oh no they are shooting at me. Help! Help I am wounded I can't put the watch back on! Oh no I am wounded and losing blood really fast. Last words of a dead man that lost due to not having his smart watch on: '...My watch where is my watch...'

Keith Jakle
May 02, 2014 03:23:20 pm
Man, if this isn't the gubment with a solution in search of a problem. The liberal progressive idea fairy landed as usual.

May 02, 2014 02:52:02 pm
I actually LOVE the idea of some form of 'smart gun' that prevents unauthorized use. The devil's in the details. HAS to be reliable, quick and effective. If someone is breaking in during the night don't tell me I need to find my watch, put in a PIN and THEN it MAY work, all in the middle of the night when I'm trying to wake up. Anything that has a potential to be hacked, as discussed here, no way. There's a lot of smart people out there, let's figure it out in a practical way. And, of course, it can never be mandated.

Buddy Alton
May 02, 2014 02:33:25 pm
FTA: 'before the pistol can be “enabled” the user must first enter a PIN on the watch, which is said to have “extensive watch functions.”' So during a panic situation, while the criminal is trying to kill me I have to type in a code [(]try remembering it while terrified[)] befoire I can defend myself. Yeah, THAT's a great idea. The dumbass who requires this can kiss my a--.

laughing hard
May 02, 2014 02:32:05 pm
seriously if you had to do that with your watch when you are being attacked... lets just say you wont make it past the first 2 clicks

May 02, 2014 02:31:05 pm
Hank, this is a fully functional 22LR pistol... that costs $1800 including the watch. It's very real, albeit very stupid. It would be too easy for over reaching governments to deactivate all of these pistols.

May 02, 2014 12:02:46 pm
Okay, by the time you find, put on and activate your watch you've been killed, your wife and daughters have been molested and raped, great idea. Chuck

May 02, 2014 05:50:18 am
Hey how about this country try something different for a change, not one person buy one of these idiotic guns and then they will stop making them that way the government can't control them. If there is no demand for this product it will just go away....

April 26, 2014 05:11:39 pm
That so-called smart gun isn't even a real gun. No ejection port. As far as I know, no one has actually made a working firearm with the technology in it. Nobody who knows anything about guns wants one. Not civilians, not police, not the military. If politicians mandate these guns I guarantee that tutorials on dumbing down smart guns will crop up like mushrooms after a Spring rain.