The tens of billions of connected devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a key concern of security researchers, and now that concern includes smart devices made for pets.
In particular, many trackers that are used to monitor the location of pets can be an avenue for cybercriminals to gain access to the pet owners' networks and phones and to such data as a user's password, login, name and email address, authentication tokens and device coordinates, according to Kaspersky Lab researchers.
The vulnerabilities found within the seven pet tracking products tested by Kaspersky is another proof point of the dangers of unsecured devices connecting to networks and the Internet, particularly as the number of such devices -- both consumer and commercial devices -- continues to explode.
The Mirai malware was an example.
Discovered in 2016, the botnet malware launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against several websites by taking control of such IoT devices as routers, digital video recorders and security cameras. (See OMG: Mirai Botnet Finds New Life, Again.)
"The growing number of malware targeting IoT devices and related security incidents demonstrates how serious the problem of smart device security is," Roman Unuchek, senior malware analyst at Kaspersky, told Security Now in an email. "The past two years have shown that these threats are not just conceptual but are in fact very real. The Mirai botnet demonstrated that smart devices can be used for cybercriminals to launch powerful attacks. Today, there are billions of these devices globally, and by 2020 this number will grow to 20-50 billion devices, according to predictions by various analysts. The security challenges presented by IoT are significant, exponentially increasing and constantly evolving."
Organizations seem to understand the threats, according to Gartner analysts.
In March, they noted that a survey found that almost 20 percent of organizations saw at least one IoT-based attack at some point over the past three years. In addition, the analysts said that spending on IoT security worldwide will grow from almost $1.2 billion in 2017 to more than $3.1 billion by 2021. Because companies don’t control the software and hardware used in these intelligent connected devices, the focus of spending will be on such tools and services around discovery and asset management, security assessment and penetration testing, they said. (See Increased IoT Use Causing Added Enterprise Security Concerns – Report.)
Trouble with BLE
With the pet trackers, Kaspersky researchers found a variety of vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to gain access to user data. A key technology used by many of the trackers tested was Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a power-saving Bluetooth connectivity specification that is used in many IoT devices. In a blog post, Unuchek and Kaspersky security expert Roland Sako called BLE "the weak spot in the device's protective armor."
"Unlike 'classic' Bluetooth, where peer devices are connected using a PIN code, BLE is aimed at non-peer devices, one of which may not have a screen or keyboard," Unuchek and Sako wrote. "Thus, PIN code protection is not implemented in BLE -- authentication depends entirely on the developers of the device, and experience shows that it is often neglected."
In addition, the foundation for data transfer between non-peer devices -- in this case, a smartphone on one end and a tracker on the other -- in the BLE spec are services, characteristics and descriptors. Once connected, BLE services are available to the smartphone, and each service contains characteristics that could have descriptors, and both characteristics and descriptors can be used when transferring data.
"Hence, the correct approach to device security in the case of BLE involves pre-authentication before characteristics and descriptors are made available for reading and writing," the two researchers wrote. "Moreover, it is good practice to break the link shortly after connecting if the pre-authentication stage is not passed. In this case, authentication should be based on something secret that is not accessible to the attacker -- for example, the first part of the data can be encrypted with a specific key on the server (rather than the app) side. Or transmitted data and the MAC address of the connected device can be confirmed via additional communication channels, for example, a built-in SIM card."
The level of security varied on the trackers detected, and connectivity wasn't the only weakness found in many of them, the Kaspersky researchers found.
For some, there were issues with the Android app that was used with the tracker. In some instances, the app logs data -- which includes the user's password, login and authentication token -- that is sent to the server, while in others the app's developers did not disable logging. In one, the app doesn't verify the sever's HTTPS certificate, making it vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MiM) attacks.
In some trackers there is a lack of authentication, which opens them up to attackers, while in one instance the integrity control was easy to bypass during the updating of the device's firmware.
"It's unclear why certain companies or vendors skip security implementations," Unuchek told Security Now. "In most cases, it should take not much time to add authentication or access control in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication. Other security features should be even easier to add. SSL-pinning are very simple features to implement and it can prevent MiM attacks. In addition, disabling logging in the app should take seconds."
Unuchek also encouraged users to choose strong usernames and passwords that are different from those used for other accounts, to use an alias for the account or when naming the paired device, and to keep the device's apps up to date. (See UNC Researchers Pitch Framework to Fight Password Reuse.)
— Jeffrey Burt is a long-time tech journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as eWEEK, The Next Platform and Channelnomics.