Many consumers and businesses don’t realize how the Internet of things (IoT) has become a part of their everyday day lives. From smart door locks to WiFi office printers and smart fire alarms, IoT technology exists in our homes' smart devices and sectors such as the industrial industry and transportation networks.
Because of the proliferation of IoT, there’s been a dramatic spike in cybercriminal activity wishing to expose the vulnerabilities in these devices. In an alarming report by IBM X—Force, IoT attacks rose by 400% from October 2019 through June 2020. The surge in attacks was mainly driven by IoT malware, accounting for 89% of all the IoT attacks detected in 2020.
Attackers with access to unsecured IoT devices can exploit firmware vulnerabilities, gaining unauthenticated access. And once they’ve infiltrated the system, cybercriminals can proceed to all sorts of malicious behavior, including malware distribution and data theft. They may even take control of the device and misuse it.
How Reverse Engineering Benefits Consumers
With the disturbing rise in IoT attacks comes the demand for reverse engineering devices to examine the depth of their vulnerabilities and the potential for an attacker to gain access remotely. When consumers hear the term “reverse engineering,” thoughts of malicious activity may come to mind. However, reverse engineering can go beyond disassembling a product with the intention to expose design flaws and replicate better, cheaper versions. Reverse engineering can help empower the production process and create safer and more secure devices for the market and community.
The reverse engineering methodology follows a standard processes of physically and logically inspecting the device and its components. This could cover actions such as: information gathering, pins identifications, firmware image and filesystem image extractions, etc.
Reverse engineering is based generally on static analysis but could also sometimes be performed through dynamic analysis while using debugger tools for example.
Globally, firmware images are the device’s operating system and the codes that control its behavior. Therefore, obtaining the complete and accurate firmware image could represent one of the crucial way of reversing a device because the firmware’s memory contents reveal some potential exploitable vulnerabilities.
When analyzing a firmware for example, extracting the password is one of the most aimed task by the reverse engineer. If a reverse engineer can extract the password and bypass the complexity of hashing algorithms most commonly used in IoT devices or succeed a brute-force attack, so can a malicious actor.
Reverse engineering processes reveal that cracking an IoT device leads among others to access to sensitive credentials and embedded private keys. This also means potentially gaining remote access to the device, allowing the hacker to log into the device as an authorized user to perform whatever malicious function they desire.
The increase in demand for smart devices paves the way for IoT research and development to help fill the market with innovative devices. Through the reverse engineering process, engineers can propose improvements to make emerging devices safer. The method also gives insight into cybersecurity risk management by presenting potential theoretical attacks based on historical data and evolutionary trends.