Feeds

Phlashing attack thrashes embedded systems

Router bricking risk

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

A security attack that damages embedded systems beyond repair was demonstrated for the first time in London on Wednesday.

The cyber-assault thrashes systems by abusing firmware update mechanisms. If successful, the so-called phlashing attack would force victims to replace systems.

The attack was demonstrated by Rich Smith, head of research for offensive technologies and threats at HP Systems Security Lab, at the EUSecWest security conference in London on Wednesday. Smith told Dark Reading that such as "permanent denial of service" attack could be carried out remotely over the internet.

Theoretically the attack could be both more effective (as the damage caused would be harder to recover from) and cheaper than conventional denial of service attacks, which typically rely on hackers paying to rent control of a network of compromised PCs.

The PhlashDance approach relies on exploiting frequently unpatched vulnerabilities in embedded systems, such as flaws in remote management interfaces, to get access to a system. That alone wouldn't be enough, but because firmware updates are seldom secured, the possibility exists of making an update that effectively trashes a system.

Smith is calling on vendors to authenticate the mechanism as one way of defending against such attacks. He is demonstrating a tool to search for vulnerabilities in firmware, as well as an attack mechanism to corrupt vulnerable firmware at EUSecWest.

There's no record of such an attack even occurring and other security watchers are sceptical over whether crackers could make money - the main motive for denial of service attacks - from such an approach. Both H D Moore of Metapolit fame and the Hack a Day blog reckon that exploiting vulnerabilities to plant malware in firmware is a far more insidious and dangerous type of attack than simply destroying systems.

Another presentation at EuSecWest will demonstrate a proof of concept rootkit capable of covertly monitoring and controlling Cisco routers. The Cisco IOS rootkit software was developed by Sebastian Muniz, of Core Security. ®

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
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
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
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
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
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.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
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.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.