Feeds

Sat comms kit riddled with backdoors for hackers – researcher

Right, shipmate, identify yourself. LOL? What's your meaning?

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Security researchers claim to have uncovered myriad security problems with satellite communication systems. But while major manufacturer Iridium said the security weaknesses identified by security researchers at IOActive were in hand, Thuraya, another satellite comms service, has criticised the report as inaccurate.

Ruben Santamarta, a security consultant at IOActive, uncovered the flaws after evaluating some of the most widely deployed satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals. After researching numerous SATCOM terminals, including those made by major sat firms Inmarsat and Iridium, Santamarta claimed he had found that all of the devices were vulnerable to abuse. He said vulnerabilities included what would appear to be multiple backdoors, hardcoded credentials, undocumented and insecure protocols, and weak encryption algorithms.

Santamarta's research focused on analysing and reverse-engineering the freely and publicly available firmware updates for popular SATCOM technologies manufactured and marketed by Harris, Hughes, Cobham, Thuraya, JRC and Iridium.

Multiple high risk vulnerabilities were uncovered in all SATCOM device firmware studied by IOActive. These vulnerabilities have the potential to allow a malicious actor to intercept, manipulate, or block communications, and in some cases, to remotely take control of the physical device.

If one of these affected devices can be compromised, the entire SATCOM infrastructure could be at risk. Ships, aircraft, military personnel, emergency services, media services, and industrial facilities (oilrigs, gas pipelines, water treatment plants, wind turbines, substations, etc.) could all be impacted by these vulnerabilities. The results of IO Active’s research should be a wake - up call for both the vendors and us.

IOActive is currently working with government CERT Coordination Centers and the vulnerable vendors to help resolve the security shortcomings exposed by its research. More details of the vulnerabilities discovered are been withheld until the latter half of 2014, providing vendors with an opportunity to develop and roll out fixes.

El Reg put in queries to various sat comm tech providers named in the report, including Iridium, Harris, Cobham and Thuraya.

Cobham said it was reviewing IOActive's research while Iridium played down the dangers supposedly highlighted by IOActive's research while reassuring users that any security problems will be plugged.

Iridium has been in contact with CERT since they brought these concerns to our attention and we have taken the necessary steps in the Iridium network to alleviate the issue. After extensive research internally, we have determined that the risk to Iridium subscribers is minimal, but we are taking precautionary measures to safeguard our users.

However Thuraya, which supplies mobile satellite comms services to global blue chip customers and over 30 government entities around the world, took exception to IOActive's research, which it argued was misleading.

Firstly, there are a number of inaccuracies throughout the whitepaper concerning Thuraya which we would like to clarify. For example, the author confuses Thuraya as being a hardware vendor, which we are not (we are a Mobile Satellite Operator). The whitepaper also states Thuraya offers Inmarsat’s BGAN service, which is not true, as we are competitors. Thuraya’s satellites and core network are based on technology not in any way related to BGAN, which is an Inmarsat service.

Secondly, the whitepaper states that “...it was not feasible to acquire each target device. Instead we performed static firmware analysis by reverse engineering all of the devices.” As Thuraya’s equipment was not tested in a real world environment, the results and the conclusions of the whitepaper are theoretical and not a proper assessment of the equipment’s security features. We strongly believe that for a credible evaluation, at a minimum the equipment needs to be physically tested by experts in the field.

Thirdly, there was no specific evidence or data presented as to why or how Thuraya’s IP terminals are vulnerable. Consequently, we are unable to provide comment on the whitepaper conclusions or how it relates to Thuraya, as no specific information has been presented for us to refute or evaluate concerning our products and technology. A few vendors’ equipment are featured in the whitepaper (such as Cobham and Harris), however we are not in a position to comment on other industry players’ products and technology.

IOactive has published a blog post outlining the main findings from its research to go along with a 25-page whitepaper (PDF). ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
SHELLSHOCKED: Fortune 1000 outfits Bash out batches of patches
CloudPassage points to 'pervasive' threat of Bash bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
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.