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Metasploit Can Now Be Directly Linked To Hardware For Vulnerability Testing

New hardware bridge extends penetration testing tools capabilities into physical world.

For years, security researchers and penetration testers have used the open source Metasploit Framework to probe for vulnerabilities, run exploits, and simulate real-world attacks against software and networks.

Starting this week, they can use Metasploit to conduct the same kind of security assessments on hardware, such as the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus in modern cars, IoT devices, and industrial control systems, as well.

Rapid7, the company that owns the Metasploit Project, this week announced the availability of a new Hardware Bridge API for Metasploit that extends the tool’s capabilities into the hardware realm.

The bridge allows security teams to directly link hardware components into the Metasploit Framework and develop exploits for any security vulnerabilities that might be present on them.

Initially at least, the hardware bridge will focus on modules for conducting pen tests in the automotive space. But similar capabilities will become available for testing embedded, industrial, and hardware devices in other verticals later this year.

The new capability makes Metasploit the first general-purpose penetration testing tool that can be used to conduct security assessments against both software and hardware. It uses wireless communications and direct hardware manipulation to overcome the network limitations that have prevented such tests on hardware previously and eliminates the need for users to develop custom tools for testing each of their physical devices, Rapid7 said.

“The hardware bridge allows you to utilize hardware to reach areas you couldn't reach before,” says Craig Smith, the developer of the new capability and director of transportation research at Rapid7. “Previously, security auditing tools were Ethernet-based, so you couldn't do things like run security tests on a vehicle's CAN bus network,” he says in comments to Dark Reading.

“The HWbridge allows you to connect to hardware devices and operate them to extend Metasploit's reach beyond Ethernet.”

Device makers have two ways in which to connect Metasploit to a physical device, Smith explained in a blog. One is to enable support for Metasploit directly into the device firmware. The other is to create a relay service, particularly if the device cannot communicate on Ethernet and is controlled only through a USB port, like Software Defined Radio devices, he said.

The HWBridge API comes with a set of core capabilities for doing things like gathering device capability information, versioning data or power-related information and separate extensions for testing different kinds of physical devices.

The initial bridge, for instance, will work with devices that support CAN bus and provides several interactive vehicle-related commands that testers can use for pen testing purposes.

“If you are in security at an automaker, you are challenged to test things that are not exposed to traditional networks,” Smith says. “The hardware bridge allows security teams to add hardware testing to their QA process. It also allows red teams to have a central user interface to all of their hardware tools.”

Similar extensions are currently under development for testing hardware in other verticals as well. “We are waiting on community feedback on the API and integration to ensure we have a solid framework before we release additional modules.”

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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