Trend Micro warned organizations on Tuesday to revisit their operational technology (OT) security after finding major design flaws and vulnerable implementations related to two machine-to-machine (M2M) protocols, Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) and Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP).
MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) is an ISO standard (ISO/IEC PRF 20922) publish-subscribe-based messaging protocol. It works on top of the TCP/IP protocol. It is designed for connections with remote locations where a “small code footprint” is required or the network bandwidth is limited. The publish-subscribe messaging pattern requires a message broker.
Trend Micro’s new report, co-branded with Politecnico di Milano, The Fragility of Industrial IoT’s Data Backbone, highlights the growing threat of industrial espionage, denial-of-service and targeted attacks by abusing these protocols.
The research shows how attackers could remotely control IoT endpoints or deny service by leveraging security issues in the design, implementation and deployment of devices using these protocols. Furthermore, by abusing specific functionality in the protocols, hackers could maintain persistent access to a target to move laterally across a network.
Over a four-month period, Trend Micro researchers identified more than 200 million MQTT messages and more than 19 million CoAP messages being leaked by exposed brokers and servers. Using simple keyword searches, malicious attackers could locate this leaked production data, identifying lucrative information on assets, personnel and technology that can be abused for targeted attacks.
To mitigate the risks highlighted in the research, Trend Micro encourages organizations to implement proper policies to remove unnecessary M2M services; run periodic checks using internet-wide scanning services to ensure sensitive data is not leaking through public IoT services; implement a vulnerability management workflow or other means to secure the supply chain; and stay up to date with industry standards as this technology is evolving rapidly.
“The issues we’ve uncovered in two of the most pervasive messaging protocols used by IoT devices today should be cause for organizations to take a serious, holistic look at the security of their OT environments,” said Greg Young, vice president of cybersecurity for Trend Micro. “These protocols weren’t designed with security in mind, but are found in an increasingly wide range of mission critical environments and use cases. This represents a major cybersecurity risk. Hackers with even modest resources could exploit these design flaws and vulnerabilities to conduct reconnaissance, lateral movement, covert data theft and denial-of-service attacks.”
A few vulnerabilities were also identified through this research, which were disclosed through Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI): CVE-2017-7653, CVE-2018-11615, and CVE-2018-17614. An example of the impact these vulnerabilities could have, CVE-2018-17614 is an out-of-bounds write that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable devices that implement an MQTT client.
While no new CoAP vulnerabilities were found, the report reinforces that CoAP is User Datagram Protocol-based and follows a request-response scheme, making it a good fit for amplification attacks.