I've been looking into converting a MIFARE (Oyster card) into a ring. I found this NFC ring on kickstarter, will that work as an Oyster card? Or are they different technologies?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ NFC ring doesn't say, but the key thing is going to be getting TFL to do the initial programming of it! \$\endgroup\$
    – pjc50
    Aug 5, 2013 at 6:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ One thing you should be aware of is that technically this would be an unsupported media used as a payment tool which easily may become a reason for suspecting you in fraud and you looking for a lawyer. Yes, I know that it's the same thing, just looking as a ring, but the fare inspectors and the police couldn't care less. \$\endgroup\$
    – sharptooth
    Aug 5, 2013 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Surely it wouldn't matter so long as their just readers got the right signals. There lies the rights issues \$\endgroup\$
    – user52143
    Aug 27, 2014 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ TfL definitely do not like people doing this, even if it merely involves removing the chip from the Oyster and using that in a ring. \$\endgroup\$
    – user32885
    Aug 28, 2014 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sharptooth I would travel with the transit card as well and present that to ticket inspectors. I've been asked to show my card to a person about once a year. I just want the ring to get through the gates. \$\endgroup\$
    – Coomie
    Sep 4, 2014 at 8:48

4 Answers 4


The short answer is "no". The NFC ring will not contain the application-specific cryptographic keys required by Oyster.

NFC "rings", like other NFC-capable contactless payment tokens, contain a tamper-resistant microprocessor with cryptographic acceleration and a small amount of secure memory storage. These chips and associated induction antenna coil are together referred to as "tags", "smart cards", or "secure elements", regardless of the physical form factor of the surrounding plastic package (e.g. card, key chain dongle, ring, watchband).

Among the secrets stored inside the chip are symmetric cryptographic keys used to encrypt the observable traffic between the chip in the card and the turnstile reader. Without this secret key, any data you might place in your key ring, even if in exactly the right application format, would nevertheless have the wrong authentication key. The turnstile will not succeed in authenticating your key ring and will not be able to read the memory contents.

During manufacturing of the chips (during wafer-sort and test phase), the devices are automatically tested before the wafer is sawn into dice. During this testing step, the initial contents of the secure memory can be programmed according to the needs of high-volume customers. The chips are then sawn and delivered (securely) to a separate factory that produces the "inlays" (the combination of antenna coil, chip, encased in suitable packaging of plastic, plasticized paper, mylar, fluffy toy, rubber wristband, etc...)

The Oyster card uses MIFARE Classic or MIFARE Plus chips from NXP Semiconductor (MIFARE Classic family). MIFARE Plus works the same as MIFARE Classic but uses AES encryption rather than NXP proprietary encryption used in Classic. Newer applications use ISO/IEC 14443-4 standardized application cards (like payment cards from V/M/Amex, and NXP offers a proprietary extension of these called DESFire for transit agency issued cards).

The Oyster MIFARE cards are programmed at the factory (or by the system operator from blank devices) and are activated upon enrollment to the system. The readers at the turnstiles and behind the glass window or in the fare adjustment machines all have matching chipsets called "SAM" (Secure Access modules) with matching secret keys stored in their own secure memory. The reader uses the SAM to generate and validate challenge-response codes and to deduct or top-up fare balances or redeem one-time tickets.

The keys required by each application are generated in the factory and programmed as described above. Alternatively, blank cards can be programmed with "transport keys" that are not secret and enable anyone to use the chip. Your NFC key ring comes that way. Once you key the chip, you can change the two keys to whatever you want them to be and program your application settings into the chip. However, you will have no way of replicating the unique keys required by Oyster: Even if you were to discover the keys in the Oyster card, they would be the wrong keys for your NFC keyring which has a separate and unchangeable UID. The keys in each card are unique to that card, derived from the card serial number and encrypted according to an application diversification rule and master key set (AN10922—Symmetric Key Diversification). So even brute force cracking one card to discover its keys will not enable you to crack any others.

In the case of MIFARE the application platform two keys are needed. The Key A and the Key B. Key B can be thought of as the "admin" key--used to top-up change keys, replace otherwise read-only data. The Key A is the key used by the turnstiles to challenge the card. The MIFARE application in the card supports only a limited set of primitive operations and so the SAM must interrogate and update the card according to Oyster-defined logic after authenticating to the card using one of the two secret keys.

There is nothing different about an Oyster card electrically from any other MIFARE device. If TfL chose to, they could provision their application to any randomly presented MIFARE device of appropriate memory size, after first erasing it. The problem becomes one of veracity of the token. If Oyster issues the card or ticket, they can rely on a secure supply chain to ensure only legitimate cards are used to hold and redeem value. However, they can't prove where your device came from — it might be a microprocessor emulating a MIFARE device, encased in an ID-1 form plastic card like Oyster cards, but with backdoor logic that might be used to undermine Oyster system controls. There is no positive return for TfL investing against this risk, however small.

So the "no" above is really a policy choice by TfL, not a technical limitation.

Once mobile NFC becomes more accepted by TfL, they will have a way of provisioning a different kind of secure application to the phone, rather than relying on MIFARE emulation. Contactless payment cards issued by Visa, MasterCard, American Express and the other payment brands, use an ISO/IEC standard physical and logical protocol that has been adapted for use in mobile phones as "NFC". The compatibility of the radio and logical protocols, together with suitable security hardware or cloud-based tokenization, will enable the mobile phone to hold an Oyster-compatible digital token that will function at turnstiles and at the glass windows.

TfL must upgrade their reader systems and SAMs (nearly in entirety) to enable the use of open-loop payment cards, issued by banks, in addition to closed-loop Oyster tokens issued by TfL. This switch to ISO 14443-4 payment readers has taken awhile. But it works already on busses and they have promised conversion of Tube should be done by 16 September 2014.

Another way to pay
You can use your contactless payment card to travel on buses. From 16 September 2014 you'll also be able to use it on Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/contactless

This conversion is the first step in enabling consumer-owned security tokens to substitute for agency-issued tokens. And is a HUGE cost savings for TfL. Just accepting V/M contactless cards will save enormous amounts on issuing and replacing cards and on system management. And it is a practical improvement for riders who will no longer have to top-up an Oyster card or adjust a fare—these tasks are now performed automatically.

So it may not be too long from now before you can use an "NFC ring" or "watch" to open a turnstile at your favorite station. You can already use your branded payment card and may as well use your NFC payment enabled phone.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Except MiFare classic can and has been easily cracked, with cards cloned... \$\endgroup\$
    – Passerby
    Sep 2, 2014 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @passerby, you are perhaps confusing the ability to spend hours cracking a single card with the more difficult task of an exploitable attack on a population of cards. The latter has not been demonstrated. And as I point out here, learning the keys for one card will not help you learn the keys for another. But more importantly to the poster of the question, he wants to use an existing legitimate MIFARE card with its own UUID. The UUID of his NFC ring will not match the required issuer range of the Oyster and so will not work. Crack or no crack. \$\endgroup\$
    – M. Abel
    Sep 2, 2014 at 22:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ With all the new NFC/RFID/<insert wireless technology here>-rings that's coming to market now, this answer should really be turned into a blogpost and posted to HN... \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25, 2017 at 8:27

One solution might be simply transfering the chip from a functional card. But it is forbidden by conditions of carriage, chapter 5:

All photocards and Oyster photocards remain our property and must not be intentionally
damaged, altered or tampered with in any way.

Unless TFL officialy offers such rings to its customers, it is pretty much a dead end.

Edit: Another possibility might be transfering the contents of such card. But with technology in use today, duplication is impossible. It might be possible to emulate UID, but you can not transfer the stored application and electronic ticket. So far Desfire EV1 has not been cracked. And I doubt the 'special NFC tag inlay' has all the hardware required to emulate a Desfire card.

And the ring is not a real product after all (at the time of posting).

Edit: And just using a blank emulated card will not work either, because it must have the public transportation application officially installed.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see how the quote you posted interferes with OP's goals. The Oyster card can't be modified. This statement says nothing about duplicating the effects of the Oyster Card. \$\endgroup\$
    – lm317
    Sep 2, 2014 at 13:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Both true, both irrelevent to the technical aspects of the question. Not an answer, this is a comment at best. -1 \$\endgroup\$
    – Passerby
    Sep 2, 2014 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby Answer updated. \$\endgroup\$
    – venny
    Sep 2, 2014 at 22:02

Most likely you won't be able to use an oyster card unless it has been supplied by TFL. You may be able to dissolve an existing card (in acetone) to get at the chip and antenna. The antenna is a long wire which is usually looped around the edge of the inside of the oyster card a few times. You could cut this and try attaching the oyster chip to the antenna in a ring. People have made magic wands and gloves like this. Of course

  1. acetone is dangerous
  2. TfL might not like any of this but you wouldn't be getting free travel so maybe they wouldn't send you to their prison
  3. it may be that none of this works very well

Contactless payment by debit/credit card is being accepted soon, so if you fancy ruining your credit/debit card then you could try that too. I'd imagine banks have even less sense of humour than TfL


Can you? Technically, you can. The MiFare wikipedia page has most of what you need to know:

In March 2008 the Digital Security[23] research group of the Radboud University Nijmegen made public that they performed a complete reverse-engineering and were able to clone and manipulate the contents of an OV-Chipkaart which is a MIFARE Classic card.[24] For demonstration they used the Proxmark device, a 125 kHz / 13.56 MHz research instrument.[25] The schematics and software are released under the free GNU General Public License by Jonathan Westhues in 2007. They demonstrate it is even possible to perform card-only attacks using just an ordinary stock-commercial NFC reader in combination with the libnfc library.

Oyster cards, using the MiFare Classic Card system, are essenttially standard encrypted nfc tags. MiFare is designed by NXP, who is a big pusher of the NFC standard. MIfare classic is also very weak.

Now should you? As others have mentioned, TfL is comprimise of a bunch of myopic paranoid bastards. Again, see the Oyster card wikipedia page.

If I were you, I'd clone my valid card, and carry that card with me regardless, as a precaution.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If the card was Mifare Classic, then maybe. But these were discontinued four years ago. \$\endgroup\$
    – venny
    Sep 2, 2014 at 22:26

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