Flaws in Smart Sockets Expose Networks to Remote Attacks


A popular brand of smart electrical sockets is plagued by several serious vulnerabilities that expose networks to remote attacks, Bitdefender researchers reported on Thursday.

The affected vendor has not been named since it has yet to release patches for the vulnerable product. The fix is expected to become available sometime in the third quarter of 2016.

Smart electrical sockets allow users to create on/off schedules for their devices, monitor energy usage and prevent overheating. In many cases, these products can be controlled remotely using a mobile application.

The product analyzed by Bitdefender researchers Dragos Gavrilut, Radu Basaraba and George Cabau is a smart socket that is installed, configured and controlled using iOS and Android apps available on the App Store and Google Play.

During the setup process, the user is instructed to provide the Wi-Fi credentials needed by the device to connect to the local wireless network. The device is also registered with the vendor's server through a UDP message containing the device's name, model and MAC address.

Experts discovered several vulnerabilities, including the fact that the socket's hotspot is protected by weak, default credentials, and users are not warned about the risks of leaving them unchanged.
Another problem is related to the fact that the mobile app transfers Wi-Fi credentials in clear text, allowing an attacker to intercept the information. Furthermore, communications between the device and the application go through the manufacturer's server without being encrypted – the data is only encoded and it can be easily decoded.

According to researchers, the security weaknesses plaguing the product can be exploited by a remote attacker who knows the MAC and default password to take control of the device. This includes making configuration changes (e.g. modifying schedules) and obtaining user information.

While some might argue that a smart socket does not store any sensitive information, the product analyzed by the security firm includes an email notification feature that requires the user to provide their email username and password. If an attacker gains access to the device, they can steal the victim's email credentials and hack their account.

Experts also found that due to the lack of password sanitization, attackers can inject arbitrary commands into new password requests. This allows them not only to overwrite the root password, but also to open the embedded Telnet service and remotely hijack the device. The method can also be used to install malicious firmware, which gives hackers persistent access to the socket and from there to all the other devices on the local network.

"This type of attack enables a malicious party to leverage the vulnerability from anywhere in the world", said Alexandru Balan, chief security researcher at Bitdefender. "Up until now most IoT vulnerabilities could be exploited only in the proximity of the smart home they were serving, however, this flaw allows hackers to control devices over the Internet and bypass the limitations of the network address translation. This is a serious vulnerability, we could see botnets made up of these power outlets."