Home Security Systems Aren't Secure, HP Claims

A Hewlett-Packard study has revealed that Internet of things home security systems might be exposing users to risk.

IoT security

Home security systems by definition are supposed to secure home owners. Ironically, however, they could well be opening a door for attackers, according to a new study from Hewlett-Packard.

The report on home security devices follows an HP report issued in July 2014 that found common vulnerabilities across Internet of things (IoT) connected devices. While the first report looked broadly at IoT devices, the new report focuses on home security systems that are Internet-enabled.

"The results were pretty startling," Daniel Miessler, practice principal at HP Fortify, told eWEEK. "The big finding was that 10 out of 10 systems could be brute-forced to extract usernames and passwords via the Internet."

A brute-force attack is one in which an attacker repeatedly tries different combinations of access credentials to get control of a device. With the home security systems, the usernames and passwords are used by mobile apps to be able to view and manage home security remotely, according to Miessler. With that access, an attacker could identify if a user is home or not.

Miessler said that 10 out of the 10 systems that HP tested failed to implement account lockout procedures, which could potentially mitigate the risk of a brute-force attack. With a typical account lockout policy, a user is locked out of a device or account after a specific number of failed access attempts.

HP also found variances in security deployment across cloud, Web and mobile interfaces, which Miessler said means that there is inconsistent security across the various interfaces. There were also issues with update mechanisms on the home security devices that could further expose users to risk. Seven out of 10 devices tested by HP had software update security issues. The issues include lack of proper validation and encryption on updates, as well as providing mechanisms to update the devices in the first place.

Another risk that the HP researchers found is that of default passwords. Simply put, if a user doesn't change the default password for a home security system, a remote attacker can potentially easily access the system. Miessler recommends that the first thing that users do is to change the default username and password.

Similar to HP's 2014 IoT report, the company initially is not publicly identifying the vendors that it evaluated in the study. Miessler said that HP has reached out to each of the impacted vendors—with varying responses. He noted that some responded quickly and patched the issues, while others have not responded.

HP's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), which is in the business of purchasing vulnerabilities, has a stated public policy of disclosing security vulnerabilities 120 days after a vendor has first been notified. For the HP IoT study, no such disclosure policy has yet been decided upon.

"We have not made a final decision just because of the significance of the vulnerabilities, so we want to be cautious," Ryan English, global director of HP Fortify on Demand (FoD), told eWEEK. "Our goal obviously is to drive remediation, but you would hope within 120 days all the issues could be fixed."

English added that all the issues that HP identified are what he refers to as "low-hanging fruit" and would be easy to tackle for a fix.

"It's literally stuff that all of them could fix pretty quick," he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.