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Attacks/Breaches

12/23/2011
09:48 AM
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The 7 Coolest Hacks Of 2011

Evil insulin pumps and laptop batteries, war texting, and a 'tween' hacker captured our imagination -- and our attention

1. Remotely starting a car via text message.
There's war driving, and then there's war texting. Security researcher Don Bailey discovered how simple it is to remotely disarm a car alarm system and control other GSM and cell-connected devices: He showed off his find by remotely starting a car outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during the Black Hat USA and DefCon shows.

It took Bailey, a security consultant with iSec Partners, only two hours to first hack into a popular car-alarm system and then start the car from afar with a text message. He and fellow researcher Mat Solnick later re-enacted the hack via video in Vegas.

The problem: Physical security systems attached to the GSM and cellular networks, such as GPS tracking devices and car alarms, as well as traffic control systems, home control and automation systems, and SCADA sensors, are vulnerable. Once these devices have been discovered on the network, an attacker can abuse them. Take the car alarm, which sites on cellular networks and receives messages from control servers: Attackers now can reverse-engineer and commandeer them, as Bailey demonstrated. GSM basically gives them a foot in the door.

"Their proprietary protocols [traditionally] were insulated and so obfuscated that you wouldn't necessarily know what was going on under the hood," Bailey said. "[But] car-alarm manufacturers now have to worry about reverse-engineering of their proprietary protocols."

Starting a car from afar is one thing, but even more disconcerting is the possibility of SCADA systems similarly being sniffed and reverse-engineered, Bailey pointed out.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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