Embedded devices a cinch to pwn

Embedded devices a cinch to pwn
Embedded devices a cinch to pwn 

By Dan Goodin in Vancouver
19th April 2007

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 

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.

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