Friday, 29 April 2016

Using cheap SIM card readers

I ordered one of those cheap SIM (Smart card) card readers (often in blue plastic) that take a while to arrive from China. When it showed up I plugged it into my on Linux box and it was recognised as:
$ lsusb
Bus 001 Device 017: ID 067b:2303 Prolific Technology, Inc. PL2303 Serial Port
And it had created a serial device: /dev/ttyUSB0. So how do you actually use the thing? It ships with a dodgy mini-CD full of some apparently even dodgier Windows software - not much use. If you try to connect to the serial port using minicom etc you don't get much.

However it is possible to use it on Linux (Whilst OSX has shipped with the relevant deamon pcscd for a while, it seems that openct is not fully supported so it may not work with this little blue one - unless someone ports it). There are two ways to use it - the simplest way is to use apps that can talk directly to the serial port and communicate with the device such as pysimreader or pysim.

The second more advanced way requires some setup on Linux - so you'll need to install a few packages:
$ sudo apt-get install pcscd openct pcsc-tools
Then to get the SIM reader going you need to add the following to the openct config file (/etc/openct.conf) - so it knows where to find the SIM reader (it's known as a "phoenix" style reader):
reader phoenix {
    driver = phoenix;
    device = serial:/dev/ttyUSB0;
And uncomment the following lines in openct config file for pcscd (/etc/reader.conf.d/openct) - so that it recognises openct devices:
DEVICENAME       /dev/null
LIBPATH          /usr/lib/
CHANNELID        0
Then you make sure the SIM reader is plugged in and restart the daemons:
$ sudo /etc/init.d/openct restart
sudo /etc/init.d/pcscd restart
Then you should be good to go. You can check the device has been recognised by using the pcsc_scan utility - and you should see it find the OpenCT Reader as below:
$ pcsc_scan 
PC/SC device scanner
V 1.4.22 (c) 2001-2011, Ludovic Rousseau <>
Compiled with PC/SC lite version: 1.8.10
Using reader plug'n play mechanism
Scanning present readers...
0: OpenCT 00 00

Fri Apr 29 16:25:33 2016
Reader 0: OpenCT 00 00
  Card state: Card inserted, Shared Mode, 
  ATR: .....

Then you can try out apps like cardpeek and others - install it using apt-get:
$ sudo apt-get install cardpeek

One can use it to read any compatible smart card chip using the reader. If you want to try reading a credit card you'll need to chop out the smart card section to make it into a SIM shape so it can fit into the unit. There's a bunch of more esoteric apps/libs on Github for this stuff like card, simLAB, etc. It is also possible to use the device to authenticate to EAP-SIM/AKA WiFi (thanks to this guy for his blog post that helped me on some of the above).

Note: If you find that the apps aren't working properly (check the logs for weird behaviour - enable logging - in openct edit /etc/openct.conf and add/modify debug = 9, for pcscd start it manually: sudo pcscd -a -d and then you'll have them both log to syslog) you may have a buggy version of openct (I had a problem with openct 0.6.20-1.2ubuntu1) so you'll need to get the latest version from the openct site and install that instead. Note that you'll probably need to build it from source e.g:
$ git clone
cd openct
./configure --enable-pcsc
sudo make install
Then you'll need to edit the openct config file for pcscd (/etc/reader.conf.d/openct) - so that it uses the newly installed version of openct in /usr/local:
 LIBPATH          /usr/local/lib/
Then restart things:
$ sudo /etc/init.d/openct stop
sudo /usr/local/sbin/openct-control init 
sudo /etc/init.d/pcscd restart
Now you should be on track again.
[Updated: 5may16: Adding simple serial apps]