Feeds

Embedded devices a cinch to pwn

The weak link in the chain

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

CanSecWest Cell phones, modems, routers and similar devices are a lot easier to hack than most people think, making them an opportune target for criminals looking for an easy way to pierce a network, a researcher from Juniper networks says.

Speaking at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, Barnaby Jack demonstrated how a soldering kit and some basic knowledge about the processors typically used in embedded devices can allow miscreants to download the firmware running on the hardware. The code can then be modified to make the devices do all kinds of nefarious things, he warns.

Over the past decade, computers - usually those running Windows - have emerged as the vector of choice for cyber crooks. That is beginning to change for several reasons. For one, years of trial and error (with an emphasis on error) has helped Microsoft harden the defenses of its software, making it harder to find critical vulnerabilities. At the same time, the number of cell phones, routers and other embedded devices has proliferated.

Hardware designers often make it easy for their devices to be hacked because they contain debugging functionality and hardware interfaces not needed by end users.

Jack demonstrated how modified firmware for a router made by D-Link changed default settings so remote administration was enabled. (He emphasized gear made by other vendors was equally at risk.) That in turn would allow the router to be accessed remotely, potentially allowing the altering of DNS settings or the disclosure of VPN credentials.

We would have been more impressed had it been possible to modify the firmware remotely. Alas, that was not the case. To alter the settings, the criminal would need to access the device on the local area network. Jack claims similar attacks could be carried out over the net.

We'll give Jack the benefit of the doubt here, not just because we're in a charitable mood, but also because he makes a good point. Embedded devices are everywhere and we suspect little thought or money is put into fortifying them against the increasing sophistication of today's cyber attacks. Consider yourselves warned. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Tor attack nodes RIPPED MASKS off users for 6 MONTHS
Traffic confirmation attack bared users' privates - but to whom?
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.