Segway Hoverboard Hacking Demonstrates IoT Security Risks

New research from security firm IOActive discovers that an attacker could take remote control of a hoverboard, placing the rider at risk.

IOactive Hoverboard

Riding a hoverboard requires a certain amount of balance, but no amount of physical dexterity will help a rider whose hoverboard has been taken over by hackers. Security firm IOActive today publicly issued an advisory on multiple vulnerabilities it found in Segway/Ninebot MiniPRO hoverboards, ahead of a talk that is scheduled at the Black Hat USA conference on July 26.

The vulnerabilities include the ability to deliver and install an unauthorized firmware update to the hoverboard, as well as the ability to control the hoverboard without proper authentication or Bluetooth PIN authentication. If hacked, an attacker could take over a hoverboard while a rider is still on it.

IOActive Embedded Devices Security Consultant Thomas Kilbride conducted the research and first contacted Segway in December 2016. Segway responded to Kilbride and issued a security update in April 2017 addressing some of the critical issues. 

Kilbride is no stranger to hoverboard technology; prior to working at IOActive, he was employed by Mark Cuban Companies as an embedded systems engineer working on hoverboards.

"The Segway hoverboards are connected devices with a Bluetooth radio, which makes them unique and also a juicy target," Kilbride said. "Not many other hoverboards on the market have the same degree of connectability."

The mobile app for the Segway/Ninebot MiniPRO hoverboard provides a number of remote access capabilities, including direction control and the ability to stop the device.

"Initially I just started by looking at the communication between the mobile app and the hoverboard," Kilbride said.

He quickly discovered that no encryption was being used for the communication between the two. The authentication with the hoverboard was Bluetooth PIN authentication, which wasn't properly implemented, enabling Kilbride to explore and exploit the hoverboard.

Going a step further, Kilbride was able to determine that the update mechanism for the hoverboard's firmware did not validate the authenticity of a given update. As such, Kilbride was able to load malicious firmware onto the hoverboard that provided him with advanced remote execution capabilities that are normally not present on the device. As a safety feature, the hoverboard first makes a determination about whether or not there is a rider on the hoverboard before allowing the mobile application to take control.

"So if you remove the ability of the hoverboard to determine if there is a rider present, you can do a wider variety of actions, including turning off the motor while the hoverboard is moving," he said.

For developers and vendors aiming to properly secure devices, Kilbride has several suggestions. With the Segway Bluetooth implementation, he noted that the PIN to gain access was "cosmetic" and didn't actually secure the device.

"In the Bluetooth protocol there is a parameter for setting up a PIN that will then establish some form of encrypted connection," he said. "So the PIN should be using a mechanism that is cryptographically checked and secured."

Kilbride also suggests that embedded device vendors enable authenticity checks for firmware updates to prevent malicious tampering.

"Segway has told us that they now encrypt the firmware images, so if they've done that properly, then they will not be susceptible to the attack that I've outlined," he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and 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.