Feeds

Phlashing attack thrashes embedded systems

Router bricking risk

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.