Hubs Driving Smart Homes Are Vulnerable, Security Firm Finds

In an analysis, security firm Tripwire found that three popular hubs have a number of vulnerabilities that could allow attacker mischief.

smart homes

An analysis of three popular smart-home hubs has revealed numerous vulnerabilities in the products that could be used by attackers to gain control of the hubs through malicious Web sites or applications, according to security firm Tripwire.

Tripwire tested smart-home control devices manufactured by SmartThings, Vera Control and Wink, finding critical flaws that could allow attackers to eavesdrop on the devices' communications or, in some cases, take control of the hub. The company started researching the devices in November 2014 and quickly found security issues, such as the ability to inject commands into the Wink Hub, that could give an attacker root access.

"Without much difficulty at all, we found vulnerabilities in all these products," Craig Young, a security researcher on Tripwire's Vulnerability and Exposure Research Team (VERT), told eWEEK.

Last week, the company posted a video that explained the issues to consumers. In June, Tripwire presented much of the research at a European security conference and plans to release more details of the problems in the coming weeks, a Tripwire spokesperson said.

Tripwire found that the Wink Hub could be compromised via a number of SQL-injection vulnerabilities, and once an attacker took control, they could issue commands to other smart devices in the home, gain access to the wireless network or load a backdoor. Wink responded immediately to reports of the security issues and has already issued an update, according to Young.

The hub manufactured by Vera Control has cross-site request forgery (CSRF) issues that could allow an attacker to issue commands to the hub if a user on the same network viewed attacker-controlled Web content. Because Vera Control has not fixed the issues, Tripwire is not providing details of them, but recommended that users turn on the "Secure Vera" option.

The SmartThings hub had the most minor security issue, Young said. A single vulnerability could allow eavesdropping in certain circumstances, he said.

A spokesperson for SmartThings stressed that any hub with the vulnerability should now be patched. "The patch was in fact a mandatory update that was issued automatically to all active hubs, and any inactive hub that was not updated cannot connect to the SmartThings service and is automatically redirected to an update server," the spokesperson said in an email.

Because smart hubs use embedded hardware, they typically have less built-in security than your typical computer system. "One of the problems we have in the industry with low-cost embedded devices [is] any mistake can be a big mistake," said Young. "You don't have the modern protection features of modern operating systems to protect the device and users."

In addition, many of the products currently available were made by startups that do not have a great deal of experience producing secure devices.

Tripwire recommends that users keep their devices up-to-date with the latest firmware upgrades and connect the devices to a network separate from computers that are regularly used to connect to the Internet.

"It is not the kind of technology you want to just install and forget about," Young said. "It is not just for early adopters, but not for mainstream users yet."

Tripwire notified the three vendors of the security flaws. Two of the companies—Wink and SmartThings—have released patches for the issues.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with a response from SmartThings.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...