Feeds

Hardware is secure (false)

Voodoo security lambasted

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Hardware devices are far from a panacea for information security problems but users are continuing to place too much faith in marketing claims to the contrary, the Black Hat conference was told this week.

Technology has moved on but hardware devices are far from totally secure. "Most, if not all, hardware solutions are open to attack," Joe Grand, a security consultant at Grand Idea Studio, told delegates to the Black Hat conference in Amsterdam on Thursday. "Blindly trusting hardware leads to a false sense of security. Hardware is not voodoo."

Grand outlined a variety of attacks including eavesdropping, interrupting the operation of a hardware security product, using undocumented features or invasive tampering. The motives of such attacks can vary from IP theft, getting services without paying or forging a user's identity to gain access to a system.

Network appliances, mobile devices, RFID tokens and access control devices are among the many hardware products potentially at risk. For example, biometric systems are reckoned to be more secure than systems that use passwords, but physical characteristics are hard to keep secret. Fingers can be lifted from keyboards or voices can be recorded. The storage of biometric characteristics on back-end systems also sets up avenues of attack.

History shows authentication tokens might be attacked given physical access to hardware. The storage of data on "easily accessible, unprotected" serial EEPROM allowed attackers to gain full access to a USB hardware tokens by rewriting a user PIN with a default PIN, according to a (paper) from @stake. The paper, published in 2000, details invassive attacks on hardware token from Aladdin and Rainbow Technologies.

Aladdin has been in touch to say the attacks detailed in this paper are against a mothballed, prototype product, the eToken R1 (AKA eToken, 3.3.3.x). It says its current eToken range is immune from such attacks.

Other researchers this year demonstrated how to exploit cryptographic weaknesses to attack the RFID tags used in vehicle immobilisers and the Mobil SpeedPass payment system. SSL cryptographic accelerators are also potentially hackable, as demonstrated by a recently documented attack against Intel's NetStructure 7110 devices. Wireless Access Points based on Vlinux, such as the Dell TrueMobile 1184, can also be hacked.

Other attacks create a possible mechanism to lift passwords from Cisco routers or Palm OS devices. Even ATM systems are not invulnerable, as demonstrated Cambridge University research illustrates.

Grand said that these types of problems exist because many hardware engineers are not familiar with security. A lack of anti-tamper mechanisms, use of publicly-available reference designs and (most seriously) improper protection of external memory all create problems. Security through obscurity is still widely practiced in hardware design but hiding something does not make the problem go away, Grand said.

Related links

Hardware hacking for fun and profit

Related links

Banks 'wasting millions' on two-factor authentication
Time-drift technique fingers PCs
Security experts warn of 'scary' new web scam

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
Shellshock: 'Larger scale attack' on its way, warn securo-bods
Not just web servers under threat - though TENS of THOUSANDS have been hit
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
PEAK IPV4? Global IPv6 traffic is growing, DDoS dying, says Akamai
First time the cache network has seen drop in use of 32-bit-wide IP addresses
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.