Nest thermostat vulnerable because of “developer mode”

The Nest thermostat is a smart home automation device that aims to learn about your heating and cooling habits to help optimize your scheduling and power usage. Debuted in 2010, the smart NEST devices have been proved a huge success that Google spent $3.2B to acquire the whole company. However, the smartness of the thermostat also breeds security vulnerabilities, similar to all other smart consumer electronics. The severity of security breach has not been fully embraced due to the traditional assumption that thermostat cannot function more than a thermostat even though users are enjoying its smartness.

Equipped with two ARM cores, in addition to WiFi and ZigBee chips, this is no ordinary thermostat. In the Blackhat presentation, the three researchers demonstrated how to fully control a Nest with a USB connection within seconds (plug in a USB for 15 seconds and walk away with a fully rooted Nest).

This way, Google’s Nest thermostat, poster-child for its Internet of Things ambitions and data collector of your home habits, gives root access to anyone with a USB drive and a quarter-minute to spare.

Read the full abstract of the paper here External Link.

While their attack needs physical access to the devices for “ten to 15 seconds”, it’s very straightforward: press and hold the power button, insert a USB drive, and Nest enters a developer mode.

In the usual you-can’t-be-serious cavalier attitude of home automation vendors, Jin’s demonstration attack creates a rooted device and bypasses firmware signing.

This, they write, “allows us to backdoor the Nest software in any way we choose … Loading a custom kernel into the system also shows how we have obtained total control of the device”.

And since Nest uses Internet connections to talk to The Chocolate Factory, the same connection can be reprogrammed to report when the owner is home and when they’re away, and data like Wifi credentials are available to the attackers.

There’s also a real potential for a dodgy operator to buy bulk Nests, interfere with them, and resell them to unsuspecting punters.

 

It seems a good idea for people to block Nest at their firewall. Fortunately, most routers block incoming HTTP requests by default.

 

Source: The Register External LinkSMART NEST THERMOSTAT: A SMART SPY IN YOUR HOME External Link


© Copyright 2014 Sorin Mustaca, All rights Reserved. Written For: Sorin Mustaca on Cybersecurity

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About the Author

Sorin Mustaca

Sorin Mustaca, (ISC)2 CSSLP, CompTIA Security+ and Project+, is working since year 2000 in the IT Security industry and worked between 2003-2014 for Avira as Product Manager for the known products used by over 100 million users world-wide. Today he is an independent IT Security Consultant focusing on Cybersecurity, secure software development and security for IoT and Automotive. He is also running his personal blog Sorin Mustaca on Cybersecurity and is the author of the free eBook Improve your security .

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