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Security issues in networked embedded devices

Danai Chasaki, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Embedded devices are ubiquitous; they are present in various sectors of everyday life: smart homes, automobiles, health care, telephony, industrial automation, networking etc. Embedded systems are well known for their dependability, and that is one of the reasons that they are preferred over general purpose machines in various applications. Traditional embedded computing is changing nowadays mainly due to the increasing number of heterogeneous embedded devices that are, more often than not, interconnected. Security in the field of networked embedded systems is becoming particularly important, because: 1) Connected embedded devices can be attacked remotely. 2) They are resource constrained. ^ This means, that due to their limited computational capabilities, a full-blown operating system that runs virus scanners and advanced intrusion detection techniques cannot be supported. The two facts lead us to the conclusion that a new set of vulnerabilities emerges in the networked embedded system area, which cannot be tackled using traditional security solutions. ^ This work is focused on embedded systems that are used in the network domain. A very exciting instance of an embedded system that requires high performance, has limited processing resources and communicates with other embedded devises is a network processor (NP). Powerful network processors are central components of modern routers, which help them achieve flexibility and perform tasks with advanced processing requirements. In my work, I identified a new class of vulnerabilities specific to routers. The same set of vulnerabilities can apply to any other type of networked embedded device that is not traditionally programmable, but is gradually shifting towards programmability. ^ Security in the networking field is a crucial concern. Many attacks in existing networks are based on security vulnerabilities in end-systems or in the end-to-end protocols that they use. Inside the network, most practical attacks have focused on the control plane where routing information and other control data are exchanged. With the emergence of router systems that use programmable embedded processors, the data plane of the network also becomes a potential target for attacks. This trend towards attacks on the forwarding component in router systems is likely to speed up in next-generation networks, where virtualization requires even higher levels of programmability in the data path. ^ This dissertation demonstrates a real attack scenario on a programmable router and discusses how similar attacks can be realized. Specifically, we present an attack example that can launch a devastating denial-of-service attack by sending just a single packet. We show that vulnerable packet processing code can be exploited on a Click modular router as well as on a custom packet processor on the NetFPGA platform. Several defenses to target this specific type of attacks are presented, which are broadly applicable to a large scale of embedded devices. Security vulnerabilities can be addressed efficiently using hardware based extensions. For example, defense techniques based on processor monitoring can help in detecting and avoiding such attacks. We believe that this work is an important step at providing comprehensive security solutions that can protect the data path of current and future networks.^

Subject Area

Computer engineering

Recommended Citation

Chasaki, Danai, "Security issues in networked embedded devices" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518218.