• Aug 7, 2008
FasTrak is an "electronic toll collection system" used in California. Once you set up an account, you get a transponder that simply debits your account balance whenever you pass through a toll booth. The system uses RFID technology to broadcast your account information to the toll booth receivers. According to Hack A Day, the system is anything but secure.

Among other problems, an attendee at the Black Hat 2008 conference in Las Vegas found that because the in-car transponders don't require any authentication, anyone with an RFID reader can get the unique ID from any car and then use that in their own transponder. Not only that, but you could also force any other transponder to take on a new ID because of the system's open over-the-air upgrading system.

To change the system would require legislative action since it's all defined by California laws, so Californians shouldn't expect a quick fix. Until -- and if -- a fix comes, we suppose the best that can be done is to make sure you scrutinize your FasTrak bill. And keep an eye out for guys kitted out like Star Trek yeomen wandering the park-and-ride commuter lots... Thanks for the tip, fabienne!

[Source: Hack A Day, Photo by JasonJT | Creative Commons 2.0]


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  • 19 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Tollroads are the work of Satan. They're the junk food of public infrastructure, providing an easy answer to the greedy and shortsighted alike.
        • 6 Years Ago
        actually toll roads are wonderful - they remove the burden from the tax payer for maintenance and put it where it belongs, the user.

        Why should a trucking company based in another state get to ruin your roads for free?
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Paul:

        Not when they stop building public highways around you, and your only choice to get to work (taking any sort of reasonable route) is to take a toll road there. Then they have a monopoly, and they do what monopolies do: gouge you. The fees that toll roads charge are absurd, and they're extremely profitable.

        I'm all for moving some things to the private sector, but the national road system should stay public. The only way to promote competition with a private road system is to build parallel roads everywhere, run by competing companies, and that's obviously not an efficient solution.

        The fair alternative to general taxation would be to make roads paid for exclusively by gas taxes. Then the users are the sole taxpayers, and you only pay for what you use (unless you like to stockpile gasoline).
        • 6 Years Ago
        1. If you love regressive taxation then yeah, toll roads are awesome.

        2. The people that convinced you that toll roads are great have a vested interest in seeing toll roads made. The gov'ts already receiving highway funds get to keep that money and the private companies make a killing.

        Where does it end?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Paul,

        You are incorrect about trucks from other states driving on your roads for free. The "International Fuel Tax Agreement" IFTA now ensures that all fuel taxes are paid to the state where the miles are driven not where the fuel is purchased.

        Prior to IFTA a truck had to purchase a fuel tax sticker for each state the truck drove in to make sure the state received its gas tax.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Fuel_Tax_Agreement
        • 6 Years Ago
        in the east (at least), very few toll roads are funded by the federal government.

        The one exception is 95 where many of the funds are contributed by the feds but the bulk of the money comes from the tolls implemented by the states.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Also @Paul...

        I'd be willing to bet that the "trucking company based in another state" is either hauling goods away from a company that creates jobs in your neighborhood, or is bringing in goods that people in your neighborhood need/want. That's the whole point of the roads, to promote trade and travel.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I frequently check my FasTrak account online to make sure it's accurate.

      On one occasion, the trasponder didn't register, but my account was still charged after the camera at the toll booth photographed my license plate which is linked to my account. Must have been a problem with the reader at the toll gate.

      My guess is that the system can work without any transponders at all--just debit accounts linked to each car's license number.

      FasTrak is very convenient--the dedicated lanes approaching and entering toll booths move fast while the tourists and/or nitwits wait in line to pay their cash tolls at busy times. Nice!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sure, but if it's like the system here in Houston it validates your transponder tag against your License Plate number. Anyone who steals your "RFID signature" would also have to steal your license plate to not get caught.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I am in San Francisco region, and i never bother to take my fasttrack out of my glovebox, because i know that my account will be credited through my licence plate, and if there is a problem i just have to call fasttrack and they will charge it like normal and remove the 50 dollar charge that they send me for not stopping.

        It is much better to drive safely and carefully through the booth than start digging around glovebox so that their system works better.
        • 6 Years Ago
        That simply assumes the system is like yours, from experience the fastrack is anything but heavy on verifying things. People loan out the transponders all the time or swap them into a friends car to make it to a game because traffic is heavy. They really only flag people if they have something blocking the signal or if the transponder is dead, otherwise it's go go go all you want.
      • 6 Years Ago
      My transponder ran out of battery and doesn't work anymore. But the booth takes a picture of your license plate and charges me that way.
        • 6 Years Ago
        you replied to the wrong comments I think Natural Selection.

        If you are referring to PA you are actually very misinformed(you may be referring to another state but I doubt it). The turnpike was started during the depression and was 100% paid for with Bonds that were paid back based on tolls. Since then the tolls have gone to upkeep and expansion and there has been only minimal taxpayer investment for the payment of the salaries of those that work it.

        If the lease of the turnpike goes through then the State will be paid 12.8 billion dollars that could generate (on the LOW end) 360 million dollars in interest for use in the general fund.

        Its really a great plan for the taxpayers (and motorists!) of Pennsylvania.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Several commenters mentioned having transponders in the map pocket or glove box. Are Californians really that lazy that they can't be bothered to mount it on the windshield? Maybe the stereotypes I heard about you left-coasters were true afterall.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Certainly there must be a better way to prevent theft than to put these things in gigantic plastic packages?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hmm.. Hopefully, our own Via Verde is safer...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Nice Costco Shot!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Bah, that's nothing.

      EZ Pass once charged my account $17,000 because they started putting a trucking company's tolls on my account.

      EZ Pass didn't catch it at all, and the scary part is that my credit card company didn't either. They went and authorized the charges, never got a call from fraud detection.

      Fun times.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I drive the toll road every day. I just take my plates off in the morning toss them in the trunk. I drive @65 in the left lane and the piggys dont give me a second look (the police offcier that sits on his arse collecting revenue not the police offcier that protects my city and streets). I also make sure to duck my head down right as I pass thru the camera. 6 years going and not one ticket.
      I wouldnt mind paying the toll if it was resonalble but $20 a day to drive 20 miles is rediculous.
      Oh yeah I also keep my FastTrack transponder in the car and keep it in the side pocket just in case Roscoe P. Coltrane pulls me over.
      "Oh you mean the toll plaza didnt read my transponder sir? That darn thing must not be working again. Its right here sir."
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