Researchers at Check Point have identified a novel hack that enables a hacker to gain entry into a home’s computer network via a connected home device from over 100 meters with only a laptop and an antenna in an over-the-air attack.
The attack method exploits vulnerabilities in Zigbee, an open communication standard that operates wirelessly in a number of smart home devices. Check Point researchers demonstrated the hack on the Philips Hue smart light bulb, a marquee smart home device that relies on the Zigbee protocol. Other common users of Zigbee areAmazon Echo Plus, Samsung SmartThings and Belkin WeMo, and many more smart home devices.
In an analysis of the security of ZigBee-controlled smart lightbulbs that was published in 2017, researchers were able to take control of a Hue lightbulb on a network, install malicious firmware on it and propagate to other adjacent lightbulb networks. Using this remaining vulnerability, our researchers decided to take this prior work one step further and used the Hue lightbulb as a platform to take over the bulbs’ control bridge and ultimately, attacking the target’s computer network. It should be noted that more recent hardware generations of Hue lightbulbs do not have the exploited vulnerability.
The attack scenario is as follows:
- The hacker controls the bulb’s colour or brightness to trick users into thinking the bulb has a glitch. The bulb appears as ‘Unreachable’ in the user’s control app, so they will try to ‘reset’ it.
- The only way to reset the bulb is to delete it from the app, and then instruct the control bridge to re-discover the bulb.
- The bridge discovers the compromised bulb, and the user adds it back onto their network.
- The hacker-controlled bulb with updated firmware then uses the ZigBee protocol vulnerabilities to trigger a heap-based buffer overflow on the control bridge, by sending a large amount of data to it. This data also enables the hacker to install malware on the bridge – which is in turn connected to the target business or home network.
- The malware connects back to the hacker and using a known exploit (such as EternalBlue), they can infiltrate the target IP network from the bridge to spread ransomware or spyware.
“Many of us are aware that IoT devices can pose a security risk, but this research shows how even the most mundane, seemingly ‘dumb’ devices such as lightbulbs can be exploited by hackers and used to take over networks, or plant malware,” said Yaniv Balmas, Head of Cyber Research, Check Point Research. “It’s critical that organisations and individuals protect themselves against these possible attacks by updating their devices with the latest patches and separating them from other machines on their networks, to limit the possible spread of malware. In today’s complex fifth-generation attack landscape, we cannot afford to overlook the security of anything that is connected to our networks.”
The research, which was done with the help of the Check Point Institute for Information Security (CPIIS) in Tel Aviv University, was disclosed to Philips and Signify (owner of the Philips Hue brand) in November 2019. Signify confirmed the existence of the vulnerability in their product, and issued a patched firmware version (Firmware 1935144040) which is now via an automatic update. We recommend users to make sure that their product received the automatic update of this firmware version.