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Hotel hacking could pump smut into every room

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Hotel hybrid broadband internet and TV-on-demand entertainment systems are open to attack, security researchers warn. Penetration testing firm SecureTest has identified a number of vulnerabilities in the implementation of hotel broadband systems delivered using Cisco's LRE (long-reach Ethernet) technology. Using a laptop connected to a hotel network, SecureTest found it was possible to control the TV streams sent to each room or gain access to other user’s laptops.

The security holes uncovered call to mind the security exploits in hotel infra-red controls recently uncovered by Adam Laurie, technical director at secure hosting outfit The Bunker. Ken Munro, managing director of SecureTest, said that its research covered security weaknesses in IP (as opposed to infra-red) systems.

During a stay in a hotel belonging to an unnamed worldwide chain, a SecureTest staffer paid for internet connectivity. He found TCP port 5001 open on the in-room IP enabled TV providing the service. Connecting to this port a full TV maintenance menu was displayed over which it was possible to carry out test procedures, change channels or turn the TV on and off.

According to SecureTest, a hacker might be able to access this menu and configure the system to display adult content on every TV channel. The port could also be used to broadcast content directly from a laptop over the TV. In theory, this could enable hackers to download and broadcast any material throughout the hotel complex.

Another vulnerability revolved around insecure network configuration. There appeared to be no segregation between client devices, creating a means for a user to access other devices connected to the same hotel network. The system scrutinised used a Cisco 575 LRE box, which allows existing CAT2 (telephone) cabling to carry on-demand services avoiding the need to roll out CAT5 (twisted pair) cabling to each room.

The security risk lies not in terms of this technology but in how it was implemented, problems SecureTest has seen replicated at other hotels. During a previous investigation, SecureTest used a different fixed internet/TV hotel system implemented by another hotel chain and located a connection to an internal FTP server. This provided open access to information such as a backup database of TV usage.

"A hacker or disgruntled employee could get their kicks by accessing and manipulating the TV menu, but this breach has much wider implications. An individual could broadcast their own advertising or an activist their own political message to every room," said SecureTest's Munro. "Moreover, fixed internet access is inadequately protected in many cases. People plug into a hotel network assuming it’s a trusted connection but it’s not. Unless they have a personal firewall running, fraudsters can snoop on desktops at leisure. Hotels and suppliers of guest entertainment systems need to act now to prevent these scenarios." ®

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