In 1993, Doom was a revolutionary, incredibly popular game. Today, it’s being used by hackers like Context Information Security’s Michael Jordon to demonstrate security flaws in connected devices.
Recently, a team of researchers successfully completed a four-monthlong hack that enabled them to access the web interface of a Canon PIXMA printer before modifying its firmware to run the classic ’90s computer game. During his presentation at the 44Con Conference in London, Jordon conveyed to the audience just how easily he could compromise the Canon machine – a popular fixture in many homes and businesses.
Jordon undertook the endeavor of getting the game to run the printer’s hardware in order to demonstrate the inherent security flaws present in today’s Internet of Things (IoT) devices. From the exploitation standpoint, hacking the machine was trivial, as the researcher discovered that the device had a web interface with no username or password protecting it, thus allowing anyone to check the printer’s status.
Upon initial glance, this interface was of little interest, only showing ink levels and printing status. However, it soon became apparent that a hacker like Jordon could use this interface to trigger an update to the machine’s firmware. The printer’s underlying code was encrypted to prevent outsiders from tampering, yet not secure enough to prevent knowledgeable hackers from reverse engineering the encryption system and authenticating their own firmware.
Subsequently, an outsider could have potentially modified the printer’s settings to have it ask for updates from a malicious server opposed to Canon’s official channel. What this means is that malicious hackers could access personal documents the printer was currently printing or even start issuing commands to take up resources. In a business setting, hackers could also have gained privileges into the network, on which to carry out further exploitation.
“If you can run Doom on a printer, you can do a lot more nasty things. In a corporate environment, it would be a good place to be. Who suspects printers?” Jordon explained to the Guardian. “All PIXMA products launching from now onwards will have a username/password added to the PIXMA web interface, and models launched from the second half of 2013 onwards will also receive this update, models launched prior to this time are unaffected. This action will resolve the issue uncovered by Context.”
Over the course of recent months, context has been exposing various flaws found in unexpected places, such as a connected toy bunny, a smart light bulb and an IP camera. Believe it or not, a Canon printer isn’t the only system Doom has run on. Earlier this summer, a team of Australians was able to get it running on an ATM, and last year, a crew of modders managed to convert a piano into a Doom machine.
“What this shows is that IoT means virtually anything with a processor and internet connection can be hacked and taken over to do just about anything,” says William Boldt, Atmel Senior Marketing Manager Crypto Products. “With cameras and mics on PCs, home alarms, phones, video game controllers like Kinect, and other things, just imagine how intrusive the IoT really can be.”
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Jordon’s wider point is that the world is filling up with smart objects and devices. Though they often may not appear to be computers, they often have minimal security features guarding them against hacks. This is where Atmel can help.