Danger! Logic Bombs in Audiovisual Control Systems

So-called Logic Bombs haven’t quite found their way into audiovisual control systems yet, but just wait…The unprepared will suffer.

This article was originally published in Commercial Integrator on July 9, 2019

Logic bombs are a form of malicious code whose effects are purposefully delayed by design. The name “logic bomb” stems from the classic ticking bomb imagery often depicted in James Bond type movies. The logic bomb initially goes unnoticed during its dormant phase, and is triggered by elapsed time, a specific date, or some combination of inputs. Logic bombs are common in computer malware, but haven’t been reported in audiovisual control systems, so you have to use your imagination a little.

Here are a few examples:

  • A logic bomb could be programmed into an AV control system, so that after a projection screen is lowered and raised 100 times, the logic bomb is triggered, and the AV system no longer functions properly.
  • A logic bomb could be set so that it is triggered on a specific date some time in the future.The AV system works fine until July 1, 2020, and then suddenly, it stops working, even if the AV system is rebooted.
  • A logic bomb could also be triggered by a certain combination of inputs.

Let’s say you have a 4-way divide/combine space that is typically separated into 4 rooms, A, B, C and D. The system is tested and works when the rooms are separated or combined into 1. But when you try to divide the rooms into A&B and B&C, it suddenly stops working.

Any permutation of the three examples above could also be combined, making the logic bomb is harder to detect.

Logic bombs in computer systems are often triggered by a certain login. Imagine if every time a particular CEO used a video conference system, it recorded and/or streamed the call to a hidden endpoint.

Who on Earth would do this?

The answer is: anyone with malicious intent.

An external hacker who has infiltrated a business network could replace the audiovisual control system with similar code that includes a logic bomb, which could open a back door for them at a later date, and/or forward logins and other valuable information out through the firewall.

This would make the security breach harder to attribute to a specific IP address or individual.

Another scenario might be a malicious internal attacker. Perhaps an on-prem AV support technician asked for a raise and did not get it.

Once they found a new job elsewhere, the jaded individual could replace the AV control system code with one that included a logic bomb. The logic bomb could be set to go off during a big annual meeting, or gather valuable information that could then be sold to a company’s competitors.

AV integrators could also implement logic bombs to generate unnecessary service calls.

Most AV systems are warrantied for the first year. After a year, the client has an option to continue the service plan on an annual basis. If they don’t have a service plan, the customer has to pay for each service call that is placed.

The best defense against logic bombs are passwords that limit the access to the audiovisual control system code. Any device on the LAN should be locked down using access controls on network switches.

Customers should also demand uncompiled copies of the final AV control system code, and watch the AV integrator upload that code to the AV system at the very end of the project, so they know there are no logic bombs.

LOGIC BOMB in the form of binary code, 3D illustration

If you enjoyed this article, you might like these related posts:

My 3-Tiered Approach to Networked AV Security

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My 3-Tiered Approach to Networked AV Security

How should the industry provide a whole culture of networked AV security? It could start with these three steps.

This article was originally published in Commercial Integrator on June 5, 2019

Over the last few years, the audiovisual integration industry has become increasingly more aware of networked AV security concerns, largely due to some vulnerabilities discovered in control system touchscreens and wireless presentation systems. Manufacturers have answered with firmware updates that patch the vulns, and AVIXA released Recommended Practices for Security in Networked AV Systems in July 2018

Despite these efforts, many #AVTweeps are still calling for networked AV security standards and industry leadership. We can’t just sit back and wait for cybersecurity researchers to tell us about the next zero-day vulnerability. We need to take a proactive approach and work together to leverage our knowledge.

So how do we get started?

One idea would be to launch an open group that anyone can join, like the Ad Hoc Committee on Responsible Computing Group, who publishes a regularly updated document called “Moral Responsibility for Computing Artifacts”, more commonly referred to as “The Rules.”

Or we could take a more formal approach and follow the lead of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI-SSC) which is an independent body that was created by major payment card brands.

The PCI-SSC sets the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).

That approach might work for AV manufacturers, but it might also inadvertently leave out integrators, consultants, distributors, IT professionals, and AV support personnel that work inside of organizations. All of these groups make up the AV industry, and each has their own priorities.

To involve all of these parties while still maintaining some order, I suggest a three-tiered approach:

Cybersecurity Leadership at the Industry Level

At the top tier would be a Cybersecurity Council led by audiovisual industry associations like Avixa and/or NSCA, who would work to develop standards and promote best practices in networked AV security.

The Cybersecurity Council might host annual or bi-annual 1-day or 2-day virtual conferences, where speakers and panel discussions could address market-wide security concerns.

The Council would promote cybersecurity awareness, as well as the adoption of industry-specific cybersecurity frameworks.

Cybersecurity Alliances at the Company Level

At the next tier would be Cybersecurity Alliances, which would be groups of companies that have similar interests and business models.

There could be a Manufacturers’ Alliance, an Integrators’ Alliance, and an End-Users’ Alliance (we will have to think of a better name).

AV consultants and distributors could have their own alliances, or they may fall into one of the other Alliances to keep things simple. The main goal here would be for similar companies to share threat information and strategies, much like the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), who aims to make the internet safer and more secure for everyone.

The Alliances could host quarterly online meetings, but could also alert each other when they are attacked, or when a vulnerability has been discovered, as many AV companies utilize the same OEM technology.

Cybersecurity Teams of Individuals

The third tier would consist of teams of individuals, from any of the above Cybersecurity Alliances, who would focus on specific aspects of cybersecurity.

There could technical teams made up of CIOs, CTOs, programmers, and technicians who focus on recent exploits, risks and vulnerabilities, cloud security, network design, data protection, application development, access controls, forensic analysis, cryptography, incident response, intrusion detection, cyber-physical systems, databases, or web security.

There could also be non-technical teams who would be focused more on laws and regulations, procedures, and policies. They could work together to train employees, update documents, conduct risk and liability assessments, develop industry bug bounty programs, or share ransomware response plans.

The goal of this column is not to dictate what I think should be done, but rather to present a potential framework to use as a basis of discussion. My hope is that individuals within the AV industry will talk to Avixa and/or NSCA at Infocomm or other events, and maybe these ideas will get some traction by 2020.

Attack of the USB Killers: Coming to Your Clients’ Classrooms

What are USB Killers, and what does their existence say about the security behind your classroom/higher ed tech installations?

This article was originally published on Commerical Integrator on May 6, 2019

Last month, a former student of the College of St. Rose in New York pled guilty to destroying “66 computers as well as numerous monitors and digital podiums containing USB data ports owned by the College.” The damage was done using a “USB Killer” device that discharged high voltage pulses into the host device, physically damaging the host’s electrical system.

According to the court documents, the total losses due to the incident were 58,471 USD. A quick Google search shows that these “USB Killer” devices are readily available on websites like Ebay for around 40 USD.

Details of the “digital podiums” were not released, but any AV integrator who has done work in higher education institutions could probably guess they were lecterns or teaching stations outfitted with room computers, portable laptop connections, confidence monitors, control touch panels, media switchers, and/or playback devices.

The “numerous monitors” in the court documents could have been simple computer monitors, or larger wall-mounted flat panel displays often used for small-group collaboration.

Motive? Doesn’t Matter

The motives of the attacker are unclear, and in the end, are essentially irrelevant. What is relevant is that the same thing could easily happen at another university, K-12 school, company, or house of worship.

Security experts have shown that USB drives and cables can be built to perform HID attacks, launch command shells, download malicious payloads, and/or modify the DNS settings to redirect traffic.

But more importantly, any USB memory device (a.k.a. USB stick or thumb-drive) could contain files that are infected with malware.

One penetration tester that I spoke to said he often drops off a handful of infected USB drives at hospitals and medical buildings.

The USB drives appear to be harmless freebies, and eventually an employee uses one, opens the file, and the test payload is delivered.

He said that the USB drive attack vector is not as effective as email phishing campaigns, but it is still part of his testing.

When I first shared the College of St. Rose story, many #AVTweeps commented that little could be done:

“It’s hard to protect against physical attacks. If you do block the USB port or somehow protect it from electrical discharge, the attacker could smash it with a hammer.” – Leonard C. Suskin (@Czhorat)

“Without an option to disable the port completely for both data and power transfer, there is little anyone could do in this instance. With physical access, all bets are off…”Kevin (@kevin_maltby)

What Can Be Done About USB Killers

I agree that if someone is truly intent on causing damage, they will find a way, but I think there are still some things that can be done to minimize the impact and likelihood of a USB-based attack.

First, make sure that all members of your organization have signed a computer usage policy, and formally agree to not destroy computer hardware.

Next, consider remoting all computers in locked data closets, and always lock classroom podiums and AV credenzas to minimize access.

Use card-keys or biometric scanners to allow limited access to server rooms, and add IP cameras to these rooms so you can prove who actually did the deed. This is called attribution, and is often a challenge in cybersecurity.

USB attacks should also be outlined in your cyber-awareness training, so that everyone knows to not use random USB drives or charging cables they find.

Last but not least, you should have an incident response plan that anticipates USB attacks, and communicate that plan, so everyone knows what to do in case of a “USB Killer” attack. It may seem unlikely, but it’s certainly possible, and it is best to be prepared for it.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like these related posts on PKaudiovisual:

Design Principles For Secure AV Systems

Identifying Cyber Attacks, Risks, Vulnerabilities in AV Installations

5 Steps to Better Cyber Risk Management

The Best Data Breach Incident Response Plans Require These Steps