Perimeter
5/3/2011
11:57 AM
Gunter Ollmann
Gunter Ollmann
Commentary
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Police Car DVR P0wnage

Another security failure in an embedded technology leads to unanticipated risks for police forces and a vendor denial

If you've ever had a chance to peak through the windows of a modern police cruiser, you'd have noted the volume of technology that has been packed in there, designed to aid the officer in performing their job. The police officer is effectively cocooned in technology -- with computers and other embedded systems supplying him and his colleagues with the information they need to be effective and safe.

Unfortunately, it would appear that some of these embedded technologies are vulnerable to external attack and abuse -- the type of abuse that could allow criminals to rebut evidence or, in the worst case, place an officer's life at risk.

Kevin Finisterre of Digital Munition today released the tale of his remote penetration testing exploits of the digital camera and DVR-based technology commonly used by law enforcement agencies to assist in the in-car data archiving of visual and audible evidence. The paper, "Owning a Cop Car" (PDF), dramatically steps through the findings of the penetration test that eventually resulted in remote unauthenticated access to the DVR recording devices within police cruisers (potentially allowing them to edit stored evidence) and the ability to observe live video and in-car sound.

Upon confronting the vendor of the technology with some of his findings, Kevin was informed by his support staff that it was "impossible" or maybe just a configuration error.

While indeed being a serious issue, I believe this once again exemplifies the bigger issue facing organizations of every size: Do you know what your embedded device security posture is really like?

In this example, we effectively have an evidence recording solution built upon DVR, networking, and related technologies sourced from multiple vendors, each with its own embedded operating system, application APIs, configuration requirements, embedded passwords, and subsequent flaws.

Unfortunately, this is an increasingly common scenario. The security and integrity of embedded technology has always been troublesome. Automated security analysis tools have traditionally struggled to get beyond identifying their open ports and unpatched operating system services -- necessitating the employment of skilled security experts to manually probe and exploit uncovered logic flaws and vulnerabilities. Things get tougher when multiple embedded technologies (from different vendors) are glued together into what amounts to a shrink-wrapped solution.

The response Kevin received from the vendor is unsurprising. Few people understand the brittleness of embedded systems to standard penetration testing methodologies, and too few organizations invest in seeking outside verification of their products' security posture. Whether vulnerabilities lay within the application code or configuration settings, the onus is upon the purchasers of embedded solutions to verify the security and integrity claims of their vendors. In this case, the police department that initiated the testing was able to uncover the flaws before some nefarious entity did.

Gunter Ollmann is Research Vice President at Damballa Gunter Ollmann serves as CTO for IOActive Inc. where he is responsible for the strategic vision of the security services portfolio, driving new research areas and bringing new services to market. With over two decades in the information security arena, Gunter has stared down ... View Full Bio

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