Smart Lightbulb Vulnerabilities

In the past year people have spent about eight billion dollars on smart lightbulbs to conveniently illuminate their homes.  Over the next year, that price point is estimated to jump to about 28 billion because more and more people are turning to smart devices around their houses for the convenience that they provide (Min, 2019).  Smart lightbulbs seem simple when you think about them as far as functionality goes.  You can turn your light on, turn your light off, and with the smart lightbulbs today you can even have them change brightness or color according to music or video that is playing in the house, blending in with multimedia.  But little do the consumers know that there are flaws in the security layer of their smart lightbulbs.  Some smart lightbulbs specifically the ones that change brightness and color according to multimedia playing along with it can let hackers infer the actual media playing along with the light, like audio or video.  Some smart lights that have an infrared function, hackers have shown that a covert data exfiltration threat can be done with them (MAITI, 2019).  In this document I will first go into detail about the video-audio inference threat, details about the covert data exfiltration threat, and conclude with a section on preventive measures that can be taken so the user does not fall victim to these threats.

         The video and audio inference threat that is present in smart lightbulbs lets a malicious user know what song or video a user is playing along with the lightbulbs ability to change brightness according to the media that is playing.  This is a big problem because there is a law called the US Video Privacy Protection Act to prevent getting a user’s media information like this because it can reveal personal interests and preferences (MAITI, 2019).  While this threat is actually difficult to set up and exploit, it is still possible to do.  The smart lightbulbs in examination of this threat change brightness and hue according to the different media that is playing in conjunction with them.  It turns out that the audio waveform and the fluctuations in brightness in the smart lightbulb have similar graphs(MAITI, 2019) and with this information a malicious user, having a library of songs to compare the light fluctuation to, can infer the media type from. To achieve this inference, the malicious user needs a luminance meter and a library of media to reference.  For the difference in luminance when the hue option is used in the smart lightbulb, an RGB sensor should be used.  The researchers tested audio in intervals from 15 seconds to 120 seconds and as you would expect, the accuracy of inferring the media that the user is engaged in is greater the longer the observation. The same holds for video but the time intervals were from 60 seconds to 360 seconds (MAITI, 2019).  Inferring a user’s audio and video usage is a really dangerous threat.  Because there is a law protecting users’ privacy when it comes to media consumption, I think that this threat is potentially very dangerous.

         The covert data exfiltration threat is present in smart lightbulbs because in theory, any light can transmit data.  The research says that this threat is available on smart lights that do not have a hub connecting the lights or having a hub but without permission controls.  Using this threat, a malicious user can obtain data from an unsuspecting users’ private network.  The researchers tested obtaining data using the infrared light from a smart lightbulb sending strings and images through the network.  Using the infrared light from the bulb the researchers were able to get binary data from the different power levels of the bulb. 

Text at 15 meters

Original Text: A cup of sugar makes sweet fudge 

Reconstructed Text: A buq pf!sugbr m`kessuees hudfe 

As you can see, this is a very dangerous threat that is present in these smart lightbulbs.  Anyone can use this threat to obtain any sensitive information about the users over a private network.

         These threats in smart lightbulbs are actually very difficult to utilize.  Given the right tools and proximities, a malicious user may be able to use these threats to obtain personal information.  First, I would like to note proximity.  To prevent these threats from being executed in your home network, proximity is vital to the execution and extraction or inference of your data.  Be careful who you let into your private network or into your home.  If a malicious user is too far away from your devices the information obtained may be too degraded for malicious use by the time the malicious user gets the information.  Both of these threats can be done through a window.  I would say that curtains that do not let any light through them could be a good preventive measure taken against these threats.  You should buy smart lightbulbs that connect to a hub with permission controls.  The research says that lightbulbs connected to a hub with permission controls are not susceptible to the covert exfiltration threat.

         Although smart lightbulbs are very convenient to the extent that you no longer have to get up and go to a switch to turn them off and on, and they provide some extra features like musical or video lighting, they are prone to security vulnerabilities.  As I found out doing this research, even though light bulbs have very crude electronic circuitry and seem very simple, they evidently provide multiple access points for a user’s sensitive data to malicious users.  I don’t know if there could be any better of a software engineering practice to prevent these types of threats, but there has to be some type of remedy.  Security researchers are finding security holes just about as fast as the number of devices that are being released.  You cannot even trust a lightbulb these days.

Works Cited

MAITI, A. (2019, September). Light Ears: Information Leakage via Smart Lights . Retrieved from sprite.utsa.edu: https://sprite.utsa.edu/publications/articles/maitiIMWUT19.pdf

Min, S. (2019, October 24). Are “smart” light bulbs a security risk? Retrieved from cbsnews.com: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-smart-light-bulbs-a-security-risk/

Smart Lock Vulnerability

While researching home security issues with IOT devices I came across an article about a smart lock that is used in many homes that has a major security vulnerability giving hackers access to your home.  On a scale from one to ten where one is minimal security threat to ten being a major threat, I would say that a lock on the front door of your house that is pretty much useless would be a ten.  Researching home security in IOT devices is pretty interesting because nowadays more and more people are turning to use IOT smart devices to power their homes.  New IOT devices are coming out all of the time for home use but many of them have security flaws or vulnerabilities making them a threat to the safety of your home.  In this document I will go over what this smart lock is, how hackers can bypass the locking mechanism, and what is being done to prevent this vulnerability from letting the bad guys into your home.

         The smart lock that has this vulnerability is made by the company “KeyWe”.  It is a lock that is to be used to secure a user’s front door, or main entry to the house.  It can be locked or unlocked physically, using the application that comes with the lock, or through NFC on an armband (Marciniak, 2019).  The smart lock uses encryption for the digital keys that it transmits back and forth from the physical device and the application that the user controls it from.  There is even an option to have guest keys where the user can grant a guest access to the lock with the push of a button in the application.  All and all this smart lock seems like a nice device to have in your house and provides great convenience in managing the security of your home.  The problem is that a hacker can completely bypass all of the security measures of the device and application and gain access to the user’s house if they wanted to.

         A Finland based security company named F-Secure has discovered the security vulnerability of the lock letting hackers and unauthorized users gain access to your house through sniffing packets being sent between the lock and the application.  The problem is not with the encryption of the keys but the ability of the hacker to obtain the key before it is encrypted (Ng, 2019).  F-Secure labs has a web page for this specific hack and it shows you the teardown of the device naming all of the components and how to actually execute the hack, and it looks too easy (Marciniak, 2019).  With the use of a tool named Frida the security researchers could intercept all of the messages with information like name of the function being executed and which way the transmission was going e.g. From lock to application or application to lock.  Turns out that intercepting messages that are being sent between the lock and the application for the lock all you have to do is use a piece of hardware that has Bluetooth capability and the commonly used Wireshark application (Marciniak, 2019).  The hack is easy to execute if the hacker has the appropriate equipment which is relatively inexpensive and can be obtained by anyone.  The smart lock can be unlocked by anyone that really wants to get through the door that it is attached to, so what is KeyWe doing about it?

         According to the research I’ve done on this, the security engineers who discovered this hack at F-Secure Labs have disclosed this information to KeyWe right when they found out.  Since the hack was disclosed to KeyWe, the company says that they have resolved the problem.  The truth is that the problem cannot be fixed and that after speculation from security research engineers, KeyWe has advised the users of the lock that the security vulnerability cannot be fixed and that users should remove and replace the device with a newer smart lock which they say are now up to date.  KeyWe says that they take the security in their devices very seriously and their customers security is top priority (Ng, 2019).  Amazon has been notified about the flaw in the smart lock and declined to respond on whether they will still sell the product on their site.  Of all of the security vulnerabilities that I have read about so far, this is a major one.  There is not even any kind of fix for this vulnerability as users are advised to just remove the device from their homes.  The company KeyWe will most definitely lose many customers because of this and their lack of security practices.  Researchers at F-Secure Labs say that the hack was easy to figure out which shows a major lack of security testing by KeyWe on their products.

         Having a door lock that grants entry to anyone who has a key whether it was gained properly or not is a major deficit in the world of cyber security.  There are plenty of people out there who bought this lock only to find out some time later that anyone can get through the lock, even burglars.  This shows that companies need to focus much more on the security of their devices, especially if these devices are going to operate in their customers homes.  Computer security has been picking up as an industry lately and that is because of these types of flaws that security researchers are discovering every day.  There are so many security vulnerabilities in IOT devices and that is one of the main reasons for the surge in computer security research.  KeyWe should be ashamed of their software development process, especially their testing department to let such an obvious vulnerability happen in their smart lock.  I personally will remember the name KeyWe and I will definitely never purchase any of their products.

Works Cited

Marciniak, K. (2019, December 11). Digital lockpicking – stealing keys to the kingdom. Retrieved from labs.f-secure.com: https://labs.f-secure.com/blog/digital-lockpicking-stealing-keys-to-the-kingdom

Ng, A. (2019, December 11). Smart lock has a security vulnerability that leaves homes open for attacks. Retrieved from cnet.com: https://www.cnet.com/news/smart-lock-has-a-security-vulnerability-that-leaves-homes-open-for-attacks/

The Botnet Chamois in Mobile Devices

Doing research on home security vulnerabilities within IOT devices, I started to think about different kinds of hacks and malicious abilities that can pose a threat to mobile devices or IOT devices.  I thought that a bot net could potentially pose a major threat to home security through the different types of devices throughout a house.  Bot nets are capable of many different types of malicious attacks.  From collecting sensitive information to devising a denial of service attack, bot nets are a major security vulnerability that need to be addressed.  I heard about a bot net named Chamois that has been around for a while and keeps getting updated and distributed among mobile and IOT devices.  I decided to look into this specific bot net because I thought that I poses a major security risk in the area of mobile, IOT, and home security.  In this document I will go over what Chamois botnet is, how it infects devices, and what is being done to make sure that this botnet cannot spread to mobile devices.

         Chamois was a botnet that when on a device was controlled by a remote command and control server.  Once on a device it would serve malicious ads and directed users to premium SMS scams. Chamois was a very resilient botnet that could evade detection so good and evolved so rapidly that it took Google years to finally eradicate it from android devices (Rashid, 2019).  One way that Chamois was distributed to devices was through a developer advertising software development kit that was thought to be legitimate.  While developers not knowingly placed this malicious bot net code into users’ devices, Chamois appeared to be a mobile payments solution to device manufacturers (Rashid, 2019).  With the Chamois botnet intruding in users’ homes, the unfortunate users of devices infected with this botnet were robbed of their money if they fell for the SMS scams.  Some scams were about making donations and users did not know they were even scammed until they got their phone bills (Newman, 2019).  Botnets pose a major security risk when it comes to home security because a botnet literally breaks into your house through different mobile and IOT devices and attempts to steal your money.

         Once Chamois was able to be detected it evolved from four stages to six stages, being able to avoid anti-virus and malicious code detection software (Rashid, 2019).  Many applications on Google Play Store were infected with this botnet and Google security engineers had a very hard time trying to get rid of it.  Every time the Google security engineers figured out some sort of barrier to detect and get rid of the botnet, the makers of the botnet would figure out ways to get around the barriers (Rashid, 2019).  Chamois was a very resilient botnet that infected about 21 million devices and Google has eventually whittled that number down to around two million over the years (Newman, 2019).  From what I read about this specific botnet; it seems to me that it could still be in devices today just waiting around for the chance to strike.  Since this botnet was disguised as a software development kit there could have been many applications that were not even found to have it yet.  A botnet this powerful could even evolve to collect sensitive information about unsuspecting users.  I mean this botnet has evaded Googles best security engineers for years and years, which means that the developers of Chamois could have evolve the botnet in many different ways, even to make the security engineers think that they have defeated it as another way to evade detection and barriers.

         To prevent becoming a victim of the type of botnet that Chamois is, people will really have to rely on security researchers to be able to detect and remove it from mobile devices.  The type of scams that this botnet uses like premium SMS can be avoided by just never using SMS for transferring of money or credentials.  Sensitive information should never be shared over unsecure digital mediums, and premium SMS is as unsecure a medium as any to be used to transfer such information.  The articles I read about this say that Google has defeated this botnet, but for some reason I think that it could still be going around out there.  The articles said that security researchers have dwindled the infected numbers from about 20 million down to 2 million, but that means that 2 million devices are still infected which gives the Chamois botnet makers time to evolve and redistribute a greater and even more dangerous version of the bot net with even more malicious capabilities.  I think that this botnet is still a threat to mobile and home security all over the world.  I don’t know if there is a way to tell if the botnet will ever be completely eradicated.

         To keep homes safe from these kinds of botnets users will have to be knowledgeable in the types of malicious scams that it initiates.  Education might be the only safe bet when it comes to users not falling victim to these types of attacks.  If something seems fishy, then a user should automatically assume that it is some type of scam.  If you click an ad and are redirected to a sketchy looking site that is requesting some type of sensitive information, you should just delete the site or even turn off your device and definitely delete the application that redirected the user to the site.  Botnets may always pose a threat to unsuspecting users and they need to be educated to be able to avoid the situations that a malicious attacker may make arise.

Works Cited

Newman, L. H. (2019, April 19). How Android Fought an Epic Botnet—and Won. Retrieved from wired.com: https://www.wired.com/story/google-android-chamois-botnet/

Rashid, F. Y. (2019, April 9). CHAMOIS: THE BIG BOTNET YOU DIDN’T HEAR ABOUT. Retrieved from duo.com: https://duo.com/decipher/chamois-the-big-botnet-you-didnt-hear-about

Eavesdropping and Phishing Smart Assistants

Amazon Alexa and Google Home are the most used personal assistants in the world right now.  Their use is increasing very rapidly and research on security vulnerabilities involving these devices is providing some interesting hacks.  While researching vulnerabilities in home smart assistants I came across an article about hackers using the Google Home and Amazon Alexa to eavesdrop on unsuspecting users and even perform phishing using the same hack.   The hack is a form of third-party software that embeds malicious code into the home assistants.  In this document I will go over exactly how malicious developers utilize this hack to eavesdrop on unsuspecting users, what Amazon and Google are doing to prevent this type of malicious behavior within their devices, and what are some preventive measure you can take to make sure you do not fall victim of malicious third party software for your smart home assistant.

         Google and Amazon let developers make their own third-party actions or skills for their smart assistants.  For instance, a developer could make a calculator action or skill for a smart assistant where the user can ask the smart assistant to add two plus three.  There is a way for developers to design these skills or actions so that the assistant will keep listening even after the action or skill has completed its task.  The security researchers have made skills and actions that simulate silence by inserting the character sequence of “�. ” (U+D801, dot, space), and this allowed the developed actions or skills to keep listening to conversations in the background when the user thinks that the assistant has finished listening (Ng, 2019).  Both Google and Amazon assistants have an option to disclose your conversations with the assistants to improve the recognition of commands or phrases that a user might say to it.  With the eavesdropping hack mentioned above where the third-party skills or actions can keep listening in the background, whoever the third-party developer is that injected this malicious hack into the assistant can collect conversations while the user would not even know that it was recording.

         With this eavesdropping hack the developers have even worked out a way to do phishing for passwords.  They would design their skills or actions for the assistant to speak to the user something like “An important security update is available for your device. Please say ‘start update’ followed by your password.” (Ng, 2019).  Unsuspecting users that maybe have a little too much trust in their assistants might fall for this kind of phishing attack although Google and Amazon try to make it clear that you should never need to give your assistant your password.  Another thing about Google and Amazon telling users to never give their password to their assistant is a conflict with one of the resolutions to the laser hacking which is to have a password to give to the assistant for it to be able to process sensitive commands like purchases or unlocking doors.

         Google and Amazon both have a vetting process for developers who make applications for their smart assistants.  They say that after reviewing the researchers’ evidence that they have found and removed malicious applications that are of concern.  Even though both companies have their vetting process, it seems that the companies do not vet updates to already existing applications which would allow developers to make a simple application that abides by the standards.  Once it is approved, they could actually make an update to the application injecting the malicious code thereby bypassing the original vetting process (Porter, 2019).  Smart assistant makers like Google and Amazon say that they have a vetting process for not allowing specific skills or actions to be performed by their smart assistants, although security researchers have made these malicious apps that actually worked and it took time for Google and Amazon to remove them only after they were informed about the malicious behavior.  The security researchers were from SRLabs who figured out this eavesdropping and phishing vulnerabilities and before making the information public the disclosed everything to Google and Amazon (Porter, 2019).

         One way to prevent this kind of malicious behavior on your smart assistant is to not install third-party applications on your device.  That seems a little too excessive but there are potentially many malicious applications out there and it may pose a risk to your smart assistant.  Google and Amazon have settings that let you see what data has been used from your assistant and enable or disable certain actions or skills.  Users should keep track of what specific actions or skills that their smart assistants are utilizing, and I would say that if your smart assistant asks or prompts you for any sensitive information that you should definitely not disclose it.  There are many vulnerabilities in the smart assistants these days and they will have to be resolved by the makers of the devices.  Although these hacks do not seem to have been used by any third-party developers other than the security researchers at SRLabs, the consumer should always be careful about the information that they disclose to any type of electronic medium.  More and more people are using smart assistants because of the convenience that they provide for doing certain tasks and they need to be careful.

Works Cited

Ng, A. (2019, October 19). Alexa and Google Assistant fall victim to eavesdropping apps. Retrieved from cnet.com: https://www.cnet.com/news/alexa-and-google-voice-assistants-app-exploits-left-it-vulnerable-to-eavesdropping/

Porter, J. (2019, October 21). Security researchers expose new Alexa and Google Home vulnerability. Retrieved from theverge.com: https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/21/20924886/alexa-google-home-security-vulnerability-srlabs-phishing-eavesdropping