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An NFC relay application for Android
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NFCGate is an Android application meant to relay communication between an NFC reader and a card. That way, NFC cards can be read over longer distances (we successfully read a card in Hamburg with a reader in Darmstadt). This also allows eavesdropping on the communication between card and reader, in order to reverse engineer the protocol, or modifying the traffic to test the security of the implementation, for example.


This application was developed for security research purposes by students of the TU Darmstadt, Secure Mobile Networking Lab. Please do not use this application for malicious purposes.

This application was presented at WiSec 2015. The extended Abstract (slightly outdated by now) and poster (pretty up-to-date) can be found on the website of one of the authors. It was also presented in a brief Lightning Talk at the Chaos Communication Camp 2015.


  • Two android phones with NFC Chips, running Android 4.4+ (API-Level 19+).
  • At least one of these devices needs to support HCE (Host Card Emulation). Most NFC-Enabled phones of the last few years should support that.
  • The HCE phone needs to use libnfc-nci (compatible phones include the Nexus 4 and 5, more on that below).
  • The HCE phone needs to be rooted and have Xposed installed and enabled
  • One server to proxy communication between the two phones (see server repository for relevant code)

Requirements for compilation

  • Android Studio
  • Android NDK (required to compile our native code patch)


The usage of this application is a bit fiddly right now, so follow these instructions exactly in order to make sure everything works.

After having installed and activated Xposed on at least one of the devices, install the application. Xposed will prompt you to reboot your phone, which you should do. Only the HCE device requires Xposed, the other one can work without it.

Afterwards, launch the app on both phones. Enter the IP and Port of the Server (default Port is 5566, feel free to set default values in the settings to avoid having to type them in each time) and hit "Create session" on one of the devices. The device will connect and display a session token with 6 digits. Hit "Join session" on the other device and enter that code. You should now be connected.

Now take the non-HCE-Phone and hold it to the card you want to read. The phone will detect the tag and read out some information, which will be sent to the HCE-Phone. There, it will be used to initialize and enable our patch to the Android NFC Daemon. Keep the phone attached to the card.

Now (and only now), you can hold the HCE-Phone to the reader. The first read may fail if you are using a Device with a Broadcom BCM20793 chip like the Nexus 4. If this happens, just try again by removing the device from the reader and re-attaching it. So far, we have only observed this behaviour with the Nexus 4, other devices like the Nexus 5 seem to not be affected.

If you have enabled it, the non-HCE-phone will display the raw bytes it received from the card in the debug window. In the future, we will add an option to dump them to a file for later analysis. The server will also display the bytes.

Once you are done, you can remove the card and reader, and disconnect from the server using the disconnect button.


There are some caveats, so read this section carefully before using the application (and especially before filing a bug report).

Native code patch compatibility

Our patch to the android NFC Daemon only works with devices using a Broadcom NFC chip and libnfc-nci (not libnfc-nxp). If you are unsure what Chip your device is using, take a look at /dev: Broadcom devices are usually start with bcm, while the most common NXP chip is pn544. Our code has been successfully tested on the Nexus 4 and 5, and should work on other devices using the same libnfc and a compatible Broadcom Chip. On incompatible devices, the application may still start, but it will be unable to proxy commands from the NFC reader. This is due to limitations in the Android API.

The patch is also only compatible with devices that can run Xposed. For Android 4.4.X, this requires a rooted device. Android 5.X devices do not need root, but the installation procedure is more complex and requires flashing the device.

We currently use the "Android Dynamic Binary Instrumentation Toolkit" (see below) for our native code patches. ADBI does not support ARM64 at the moment. This means that our patches do not work on smartphones with an ARM64 CPU (like the Nexus 5X). Maybe this is an alternative for the future.

DESFire workaround

The Android NFC Libraries contain a bug which makes it impossible to use our application with MiFare DESFire cards (a common NFC card for payment systems). We are using a workaround to enable us to still read these cards, but that workaround has some side effects. When you start the application, you will get a warning. Please read the information carefully.

Compatibility with cards

Android no longer offers support for MiFare classic chips on many devices. In general, we can only proxy tags supported by Android. When in doubt, use an application like NFC Tag info to find out if your tag is compatible. We have done extensive testing with MiFare DESFire cards using a Nexus S, Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 as reader, and a Nexus 4 or Nexus 5 as HCE phone. All other combinations are untested (feedback is welcome).

Also, at the moment, only NFC-A tags are implemented. They are the most common tags (for example, both the MiFare DESFire and specialized chips like the ones in electronic passports use NFC-A, but contactless credit cards use NFC-B and are thus incompatible right now), but you may experience problems if you use other tags. A common symptom is that the app restarts and pops back up without any UI elements shown. We'll try to get support for other NFC-Versions in ASAP, but since we don't have any cards that use these standards, we can't test them.

Compatibility with readers

This application only works with readers which do not implement additional security measures. One security measure which will prevent our application from working is when the reader checks the time it takes the card to respond (or, to use the more general case, if the reader implements "distance bounding"). The network transmission adds a noticeable delay to any transaction, so any secure reader will not accept our proxied replies. However, if the reader does not implement any additional checks, it shouldbe possible to proxy it.

Android NFC limitations

Some features of NFC are not supported by android and thus cannot be used with our application. These features include extended length APDUs. We have also experienced cases where the NFC field generated by the phone was not strong enough to properly power more advanced features of some NFC chips (e.g. cryptographic operations). Keep this in mind if you are testing chips we have not experimented with.

Confidentiality of data channel

Right now, all data is sent unencrypted over the network. We may or may not get around to implementing cryptographic protection, but for now, consider everything you send over the network to be readable by anyone interested, unless you use extra protection like VPNs. Keep that in mind while performing your own tests.

Used Libraries

This application uses the following external libraries:

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