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Embedded Systems Can Mean Embedded Vulnerabilities

I'll admit that I've been having a lot of fun with the VxWorks vulnerabilities lately, but it's important to step back and look at our networks to see what other devices could be sitting there waiting to be the next harbingers of doom.
I'll admit that I've been having a lot of fun with the VxWorks vulnerabilities lately, but it's important to step back and look at our networks to see what other devices could be sitting there waiting to be the next harbingers of doom.Last week, I spent some time talking about patching the unpatchable systems on our networks. Those systems pose their own sets of problems with patching and costs of maintenance, but the VxWorks vulnerabilities highlight a systemic problem that we're seeing with products from manufacturers of all types. They're inheriting vulnerabilities because they're using embedded operating systems without doing a full security analysis of the system they plan to use.

VxWorks is a perfect example. Hundreds of manufacturers have been impacted by the fact that the debug service was left enabled on the VxWorks image installed on their products. Of course, the manufacturers using VxWorks should have done their research, noted this as a vulnerability, and shut it off, but it's a little late to play the blame game.

What security professionals should be thinking about is what other devices like these VxWorks devices are on their networks. For example, did you notice that Tenable put out two new Nessus plug-ins yesterday for devices running QNX (#48353 and #48354)? According to EETimes, QNX was the sixth most used embedded, real-time operating system in 2005, and these plug-ins detect exposed services where "arbitrary commands can be run on this port," as stated in the Nessus plug-in.

Windows CE was second to VxWorks in the EETimes list of embedded operating systems. Barnaby Jack's recent "jackpotting" of ATMs during Black Hat and Defcon demonstrated attacks against ATMs running Windows CE. I've also seen it deployed on thin clients and point-of-sale systems. Any chance you have some of those systems on your network that may be exposed to attackers?

You see where I'm going with this, right? Taking inventory of your systems is critical, and knowing what's running under the hood of devices like printers and switches is just as important as keeping your desktops and servers patched. The onus is on us to do it in order to protect our networks and data because it's apparent that the manufacturers aren't doing it for us.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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