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FROM IOACTIVE RESEARCHERS

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Wake-up Call for SATCOM Security

By Ruben Santamarta @reversemode

During the last few months we have witnessed a series of events that will probably be seen as a tipping point in the public’s opinion about the importance of, and need for, security. The revelations of Edward Snowden have served to confirm some theories and shed light on surveillance technologies that were long restricted.

We live in a world where an ever-increasing stream of digital data is flowing between continents. It is clear that those who control communications traffic have an upper-hand.

Satellite Communications (SATCOM) plays a vital role in the global telecommunications system. Sectors that commonly rely on satellite networks include:
  • Aerospace
  • Maritime
  • Military and governments
  • Emergency services
  • Industrial (oil rigs, gas, electricity)
  • Media
It is important to mention that certain international safety regulations for ships such as GMDSS or aircraft's ACARS rely on satellite communication links. In fact, we recently read how, thanks to the SATCOM equipment on board Malaysian Airlines MH370, Inmarsat engineers were able to determine the approximate position of where the plane crashed. 

IOActive is committed to improving overall security. The only way to do so is to analyze the security posture of the entire supply chain, from the silicon level to the upper layers of software. 

Thus, in the last quarter of 2013 I decided to research into a series of devices that, although widely deployed, had not received the attention they actually deserve. The goal was to provide an initial evaluation of the security posture of the most widely deployed Inmarsat and Iridium SATCOM terminals.  

In previous blog posts I've explained the common approach when researching complex devices that are not physically accessible. In these terms, this research is not much different than the previous research: in most cases the analysis was performed by reverse engineering the firmware statically.


What about the results? 

Insecure and undocumented protocols, backdoors, hard-coded credentials...mainly design flaws that allow remote attackers to fully compromise the affected devices using multiple attack vectors.

Ships, aircraft, military personnel, emergency services, media services, and industrial facilities (oil rigs, gas pipelines, water treatment plants, wind turbines, substations, etc.) could all be affected by these vulnerabilities.

I hope this research is seen as a wake-up call for both the vendors and users of the current generation of SATCOM technology. We will be releasing full technical details in several months, at Las Vegas, so stay tuned.
The following white paper comprehensively explains all the aspects of this research http://www.ioactive.com/pdfs/IOActive_SATCOM_Security_WhitePaper.pdf



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