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7/20/2010
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Researcher Pinpoints Widespread Common Flaw Among VxWorks Devices

Diagnostics service feature in VxWorks OS kept activated in some VoIP, DSL, SCADA systems leaves them open to attack

Renowned researcher HD Moore next week will reveal how a misconfiguration by developers using the VxWorks operating system found in many embedded systems has left a trail of vulnerable products across various vendors' products.

Moore, who is also the chief security officer and Metasploit chief architect at Rapid7, so far has found some 200 to 300 different products connected to the Internet that contain a diagnostics service or feature from VxWorks that leaves them susceptible to getting hacked. These devices include VoIP equipment and switches, DSL concentrators, industrial automation systems for SCADA environments, and Fibre Channel switches.

The diagnostics service for developers can be abused by an attacker if left either purposely or inadvertently active in the software. "The service allows access to read memory, write memory, and even power cycle the device. Combined, that is enough to steal data, backdoor the running firmware image, and otherwise take control over the device," Moore says. "This feature shouldn't be enabled" in production mode, but instead deactivated, he says.

Moore says some of the devices he discovered while scanning for the flaw using a new Metasploit module he built may have firmware updates available to them, but may not have been applied and thus were left vulnerable. He says his research is mainly aimed at user awareness: "Even if there are firmware [updates that would fix this], no one looks for them," he says. He says the flaw is basically a weakness or misconfiguration.

VxWorks is found in all kinds of embedded systems, everything from printers to automobiles, airplanes, and robots. "The less networked the device is, the higher chance of this service being left exposed as it would reduce the perceived risk to an attack," Moore says.

For an enterprise perspective of the problem, Moore enlisted the help of a few friends, who ran a scan with his Metasploit tool internally and found several instances of the VxWorks flaw in their networks. "They found mostly storage and backup gear. If that goes offline, it's a huge deal. Business continuity is a huge issue for them," Moore says.

Although he's saving many of the nitty-gritty details for his talks next week in Las Vegas at Security BSides and Defcon, Moore says Dell and HP are among the vendors with products that contain this misconfiguration flaw.

Moore will present two demos of how an attacker could exploit the service. In the first demo, he'll show an exploit that modifies the memory settings in a D-Link DVC1000 videoconferencing system and can automatically answer videoconferencing calls. "It can be a remote spy device," Moore says. D-Link officially stopped selling the system in 2008, but the product is still in use, he notes.

His second demo will be an exploit that goes after an Apple Airport Extreme running the factory-firmware version. The attack steals the administrative password from the device's memory, allowing the attacker to log in remotely from the WAN.

Look for a new Metasploit exploit toolkit for VxWorks to arrive after Defcon as a result of Moore's new research. And on Aug. 2, CERT will publish two advisories on the flaws in VxWorks products, he says. "We will likely follow up with [an advisory] of our own, as well as information on how to test for the flaws," Moore says. They also may withhold detailed exploit modules for 30 more days to give users a chance to get patched, he says.

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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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