Feeds

Embedded devices a cinch to pwn

The weak link in the chain

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

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. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
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.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.