Insecure Real-Time Video Protocols Allow Hollywood-Style Hacking

Lack of security in the default settings of Internet-enabled video cameras make co-opting video feeds not just a movie-hacker technique, but a reality for millions of cameras.



More than 4.6 million video cameras may be open to an attack that could co-opt the video feeds of network-connected video cameras if the owners relied on the device's default settings, according to research by Internet of Things (IoT) security firm Forescout Technologies. 

In a report published on July 30, the company's researchers found that an attacker who already has some level of access to a smart building's or corporation's network could completely replace the video feeds from many types and configurations of IP video cameras because they rarely use encryption or authentication. A simple attack to reroute the video and restart the device can easily replace a video stream with attacker-provided data, the company states

"Our main point is not to demonstrate that you take over a system, but that you can conduct a cyber-physical attack — you are disrupting functions in the physical world using cyber means," says Elisa Costante, senior director of research for Forescout. "If you encrypt the protocols, none of this would be possible."

Hackers co-opting video feeds to stymie corporate defenses is a staple of Hollywood movies. Unlike many attack techniques, which Hollywood studios often treat as some sort of techno-wizardry, hacking IP video cameras is often straightforward because most devices continue to be poorly secured.

Forescout's attack, for example, relies on an common technique known as ARP poisoning, where the attacker misdirects network traffic by sending an address resolution protocol (ARP) packet to link an IP address with an attacker-controlled system. The effectiveness of the attack highlights how manufacturers continue to fail to secure the network-connected devices — such as IP cameras — to prevent the easiest attacks.

While some manufacturers have secured their devices, tens of millions of IP-connected video cameras have been installed by businesses and consumers, many without thought to security, Forescout says.

Secure versions of the real-time streaming protocol (RTSP) exist but are often not implemented, the company's report states.

"Unfortunately, these secure alternatives are not always available in IoT devices, are almost never configured by default, and are many times not enabled by the end users, who generally do not have all the knowledge required to secure RTP sessions in the first place," the company says.

A scan for the unsecured RTSP port uncovered more than 4.6 million devices that exposed the real-time streaming protocol to the Internet, suggesting that those devices are likely to be misconfigured and have unencrypted streams. Such devices often pose a higher security risk because they are rarely managed in the same ways as computer systems, with little on-board security and very infrequent patching.

The worries come the same week that security firm Armis revealed that more than a dozen flaws exist in a variety of versions of the real-time operating system (RTOS) created by VxWorks, a provider of embedded software. The vulnerabilities could leave as many as 200 million devices vulnerable to attack, many of which are unlikely to be patched.

In Forescout's report on its research, the company includes a video demonstrating how an attacker could sabotage an IP video stream to make security guards, for example, not see an intruder. Current security solutions are unlikely to be able to detect such attacks, the company says.

"The security challenges presented by these devices are forcing organizations to rethink their cybersecurity strategies," the company states in the report. "Legacy security solutions are not enough to secure today’s networks because either they are unsupported by embedded devices or they are incapable of understanding the network traffic generated by these devices."

Instead, companies need to focus on easily managed devices and configure them to use encryption, the report stated.

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Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

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