Attacks/Breaches
2/15/2013
12:42 PM
50%
50%

Zombie Hackers Exploited Emergency Alert System Security Flaws

FCC has known about security gaps in networked alert systems equipment for more than 10 years. What if next hoax is serious?

"It's been known for a while that the Emergency Broadcasting System was set up without security," digital forensics consultant Jonathan Grier said via email. "The threat the U.S. had in mind was WWIII, not stateside hackers."

According to Venable's Barnett, the emergency alert devices "were developed over the last few decades, and while they're part of a network, it was before packet-switched and Internet concepts were even prevalent in our society, so some of the connections to other networks are now, you could say, bolted on."

Security researchers first discovered vulnerabilities in the EAS in 2002. In 2004, meanwhile, the FCC confirmed that "security and encryption were not the primary design criteria when EAS was developed and initially implemented," The Register reported.

"Now, however, emergency managers are becoming more aware of potential vulnerabilities within the system," said the FCC in 2004. "For example, the complete EAS protocol is a matter of public record and potentially subject to malicious activations or interference."

Given that 10 years have elapsed without a proper fix, arguably the FCC doesn't see EAS insecurities as representing a grave threat. "The response from the government was they didn't view this as a major concern: people instinctively cross-validate shocking news, so if one TV station reports, for example, a need for an emergency evacuation, it's unlikely to cause a panic -- people will cross-validate this before taking action," Grier said. "But it does make you think of Orson Welles."

Now, however, a stronger government response will be likely. "You can watch the Federal Communications Commission and FEMA to see what comes out," Barnett said. "I'm willing to bet that they'll have an investigation and report into this." He also recommended that the alerting industry rethink its approach to security. "They need to look at coming together and codifying some best practices to make sure that these types of things don't happen," he said.

Previous
2 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
MyW0r1d
50%
50%
MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2013 | 9:34:29 PM
re: Zombie Hackers Exploited Emergency Alert System Security Flaws
Thank goodness they were good hearted, albeit bored hooligans that meant no real harm. Imagine the panic if they had presented a more credible story to be transmitted? Or instead of the SuperBowl, the next power outage may be caused by a hack (or fully functioning "smart" control software) shutting down the circuit of the grid controlling Wall Street or the Chicago Merc ?
kjhiggins
50%
50%
kjhiggins,
User Rank: Strategist
2/15/2013 | 9:33:33 PM
re: Zombie Hackers Exploited Emergency Alert System Security Flaws
It sounds like the pranksters basically provided a handy proof-of-concept that could help pressure some security fixes for the technology. All I could think of when I first heard this story was Orson Welles and the confusion over his "War of the Worlds" reading on the radio.

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-8802
Published: 2015-01-23
The Pie Register plugin before 2.0.14 for WordPress does not properly restrict access to certain functions in pie-register.php, which allows remote attackers to (1) add a user by uploading a crafted CSV file or (2) activate a user account via a verifyit action.

CVE-2014-9623
Published: 2015-01-23
OpenStack Glance 2014.2.x through 2014.2.1, 2014.1.3, and earlier allows remote authenticated users to bypass the storage quote and cause a denial of service (disk consumption) by deleting an image in the saving state.

CVE-2014-9638
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (divide-by-zero error and crash) via a WAV file with the number of channels set to zero.

CVE-2014-9639
Published: 2015-01-23
Integer overflow in oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a crafted number of channels in a WAV file, which triggers an out-of-bounds memory access.

CVE-2014-9640
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc/oggenc.c in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (out-of-bounds read) via a crafted raw file.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
If you’re a security professional, you’ve probably been asked many questions about the December attack on Sony. On Jan. 21 at 1pm eastern, you can join a special, one-hour Dark Reading Radio discussion devoted to the Sony hack and the issues that may arise from it.