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By 7 February 2020 | Categories: news

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You may have heard of the rather infamous story of a Las Vegas casino that was hacked via an IoT sensor in its fishtank. If you thought that was bizarre, then the latest story of cyber shenanigans may pique your interest

Check Point Research, the Threat Intelligence arm of cybersecurity solutions provider Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a leading provider of cyber security solutions revealed vulnerabilities that would enable a hacker to deliver ransomware or other malware to business and home networks by taking over smart lightbulbs and their controller.

Check Point’s researchers showed how a threat actor could exploit an IoT network (smart lightbulbs and their control bridge) to launch attacks on conventional computer networks in homes, businesses or even smart cities. 

Researchers focused on the market-leading Philips Hue smart bulbs and bridge, and found vulnerabilities that enabled them to infiltrate networks using a remote exploit in the ZigBee low-power wireless protocol that is used to control a wide range of IoT devices.

In an analysis of the security of ZigBee-controlled smart lightbulbs that was published in 2017, researchers were able to take control of a Hue lightbulb on a network, install malicious firmware on it and propagate to other adjacent lightbulb networks.

Using this remaining vulnerability, CheckPoint researchers decided to take this prior work one step further and used the Hue lightbulb as a platform to take over the bulbs’ control bridge and ultimately, attack the target's computer network. It should be noted that more recent hardware generations of Hue lightbulbs do not have the exploited vulnerability.

The attack scenario is as follows:

  1. The hacker controls the bulb’s color or brightness to trick users into thinking the bulb has a glitch. The bulb appears as ‘Unreachable’ in the user’s control app, so they will try to ‘reset’ it.
  2. The only way to reset the bulb is to delete it from the app, and then instruct the control bridge to re-discover the bulb.
  3. The bridge discovers the compromised bulb, and the user adds it back onto their network.
  4. The hacker-controlled bulb with updated firmware then uses the ZigBee protocol vulnerabilities to trigger a heap-based buffer overflow on the control bridge, by sending a large amount of data to it. This data also enables the hacker to install malware on the bridge – which is in turn connected to the target business or home network.
  5. The malware connects back to the hacker and using a known exploit (such as EternalBlue), they can infiltrate the target IP network from the bridge to spread ransomware or spyware.

“Many of us are aware that IoT devices can pose a security risk, but this research shows how even the most mundane, seemingly ‘dumb’ devices such as lightbulbs can be exploited by hackers and used to take over networks, or plant malware,” commented Yaniv Balmas, Head of Cyber Research, Check Point Research. 

“It’s critical that organizations and individuals protect themselves against these possible attacks by updating their devices with the latest patches and separating them from other machines on their networks, to limit the possible spread of malware. In today’s complex fifth-generation attack landscape, we cannot afford to overlook the security of anything that is connected to our networks,” he continued.

The research, which was done with the help of the Check Point Institute for Information Security (CPIIS) in Tel Aviv University, was disclosed to Philips and Signify (owner of the Philips Hue brand) in November 2019. Signify confirmed the existence of the vulnerability in their product, and issued a patched firmware version which is now available via an automatic update. 

The cybersecurity company therefore recommended users ensure that their product receive the automatic update of this firmware version.

“We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and do everything to make our products safe. We are thankful for responsible disclosure and collaboration from Checkpoint, it has allowed us to develop and deploy the necessary patches to avoid any consumers being put at risk,” commented George Yianni, Head of Technology Philips Hue.

For general users, all this means that if your smart lights start flickering and acting strangely, unfortunately you may not have a poltergeist to contend with, but something a bit more malicious - and entirely human.

Hit the video below to see how the attack works.

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