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Now you can be the NSA: Snoop on a Google Glass hipster with a QR code

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A security flaw discovered in Google Glass ultimately allowed miscreants to eavesdrop on the wearer's wireless internet connection - using just a QR code.

Mobile security firm Lookout discovered that the techno goggles automatically processed QR codes present anywhere in photographs captured by the built-in camera.

The barcode-like images could, by design, instruct the Glass hardware to connect to a rogue Wi-Fi network that snoops on connections made to the web, or tell its browser to visit a malicious website that exploits any other security holes in the gadget's Android operating system.

The vulnerability was reported by Lookout on 16 May. It was quickly fixed by Google in an update issued on 4 June (version XE6), which was pushed out to all devices before posters featuring mischievous codes could pop up at Glass hipster hangouts.

Lookout held back on details about the flaw until it published a blog post today; it explained that any attacks stemmed from the ability to configure a Google Glass using QR codes, a type of barcode that can contain instructions to send an SMS and set device settings among other data:

While it’s useful to configure your Glass QR code and easily connect to wireless networks, it’s not so great when other people can use those same QR codes to tell your Glass to connect to their Wi-Fi Networks or their Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we found.

We analyzed how to make QR codes based on configuration instructions and produced our own “malicious” QR codes. When photographed by an unsuspecting Glass user, the code forced Glass to connect silently to a “hostile” Wi-Fi access point that we controlled. That access point in turn allowed us to spy on the connections Glass made, from web requests to images uploaded to the cloud. Finally, it also allowed us to divert Glass to a page on the access point containing a known Android 4.0.4 web vulnerability that hacked Glass as it browsed the page.

Glass was hacked by the image of a malicious QR code. Both the vulnerability and its method of delivery are unique to Glass as a consequence of it becoming a connected thing.

Lookout has posted a short 50-second animation on YouTube* (below) explaining how the vulnerability allowed hackers to force Google Glass users to connect to dodgy wireless access points and cause it to visit an exploit-ladened website.

Google resolved the flaw by programming Glass to grok QR codes at the user's request, as per a recommendation put forward by Lookout. Neither rogue wireless network trickery nor QR code exploits by themselves are anything new, but Google Glass was perhaps a little too eager to trust QR codes placed before its camera.

Glass is currently a limited beta product: it’s meant to be tinkered with and holes are there to be discovered now before it goes on mainstream release. Lookout praised Google's responsiveness in dealing with the QR code exploit problem.

Up to now most of the security-related talk about Google Glass has focused on privacy issues. But the emergence of the so-called Internet of Things - which covers all web-connected gadgets from thermostats to wearable computers, such as the Google goggles - will present new security challenges that vendors and users are only just starting to grapple.

"While connected devices that capture and transmit data to each other will open tremendous capabilities and benefits, they will also broaden the attack surface and up the stakes for security," said Marc Rogers, principal researcher at Lookout.

A blog post by Rogers reviewing the Google Glass vulnerability as well as taking a wider look at security the Internet of Things can be found here. ®

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* Viewer discretion advised. You may wish to temporarily mute or at least turn down the sound.

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