Category: Security

SirenJack: Rebuttal by ATI Systems

Last week we posted news about the "SirenJack" radio security vulnerability which was released by Balint Seeber of the Bastille security research agency. SirenJack describes how a cheap TX capable SDR or a $30 handheld radio could allow an attacker to take over wirelessly controlled emergency sirens that are found in many cities around the US. In particular, it was discussed how Acoustic Technology, Inc (ATI Systems) sirens' were the first to be found as vulnerable.

Today Dr. Ray Bassiounim, President & CEO of ATI Systems wrote to us (and presumably other news agencies that ran the SirenJack story) a rebuttal which we paste below.

ATI Siren Vulnerability Misrepresented by Bastille Networks

Balint Seeber of Bastille Networks, Inc. has released information that he has been able to hack Acoustic Technology, Inc.’s wireless protocol. ATI believes that Seeber misrepresents his claims that he did so using only a $35 radio and a laptop. ATI understands the great lengths, time, effort, and expertise that Seeber and Bastille went through.  However, their claim trivializes the fact that Seeber is a radio frequency expert with over a decade of training, knowledge, and access to advanced equipment. Bastille’s statement intended to maximize public fear and anxiety by purposefully omitting and simplifying information they released.

Seeber says he identified this vulnerability over 2 ½ years ago but decided not to notify ATI or the City of San Francisco until recently. If he truly believed this was a serious vulnerability, why did he wait so long to disclose it, effectively leaving the public at risk? Other discrepancies discovered include:

  • Bastille’s SirenJack white paper states in part “...nor was there access to equipment...”  However, pictures in the white paper and videos on Bastille’s YouTube page clearly show Seeber utilizing ATI’s equipment in his Proof of Concept.
  • Seeber also states multiple times that anyone “…with a $35 transmitter…” can perform this hack. The white paper, however, confirms he used “…a number of Ettus Research Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) and Software Defined Radio (SDR)….”. This equipment costs upwards of thousands of dollars for each unit, not merely the $35 radio as claimed.
  • In multiple YouTube videos, ATI’s equipment is blurred out during Seeber’s demonstration. For full disclosure, what was blurred out and why?
  • In Seeber’s YouTube demonstration of the SirenJack hack, it shows him with an embedded CPU debug cable plugged into the ATI siren.  Since this cable is only used for programming and diagnostics of the ATI siren, why is this cable needed? There is no reason for it to be used while demonstrating siren activation through over-the-air hacking.
  • None of Bastille’s videos show any Over-The-Air (OTA) transmissions of malicious packets because transmitting on a licensed frequency is illegal. Yet the Motorola CM200 radio in the ATI siren is very easy to re-program to a different frequency (or a license free radio could have been used), and it could have been easily changed in order to legally demonstrate sending malicious packets OTA.

When the San Francisco system was installed in 2004, over 14 years ago, it was state-of-the-art. Since then, ATI has upgraded protocols to incorporate a 128-bit AES variable key with an additional ATI proprietary security layer that is now being implemented.

“For the past 30 years ATI has had thousands of clients, both nationally and internationally.  Even though we have never experienced any fails or hacking incidents, ATI responded to Bastille’s false claims by raising security safeguards, and ATI encourages its clients to update their systems to ensure maximum security. We believe that Bastille’s representations are totally fabricated,” comments ATI’s CEO, Dr. Ray Bassiouni.

It's true that Balint and Bastille do have years of knowledge and the equipment to find vulnerabilities, however we believe that Bastille was only claiming that a $30 radio can be used to take over the system now that the vulnerability is already known. If a more malicious hacker found the vulnerability first, and then released the details to 'script kiddies' or other malicious people, it could have caused major issues.

The white paper on SirenJack is now available and can be found at From the white paper it appears that Bastille analyzed the RF spectrum to find the weekly siren test signal. Once found they were able to characterize the modulation scheme, and since no encryption was used, they were able to dissect the packet. They then determined that the packets could easily be reproduced and thus any transmit capable radio could be used to attack the system. Also although Bastille used USRP SDRs in the reverse engineering stage, it seems that the same reverse engineering work could be done with a simple RTL-SDR.

SirenJack: Could sirens be taken over with a $30 radio?
SirenJack: Could sirens be taken over with a $30 radio?

SirenJack: Security Vulnerability Found in Wirelessly Controlled Emergency Sirens

Balint Seeber from security research firm Bastille has recently disclosed a major security vulnerability found in wirelessly controlled emergency sirens called "SirenJack". These sirens are used in many states and cities within the USA to warn large populations of disasters or other dangers, although at the moment only sirens by ATI System in San Francisco have been identified as vulnerable. The vulnerability stems from the fact that the wireless protocol used to activate the sirens is not encrypted, so a bad actor could record the monthly test activation transmissions, analyze them and forge control signals of his own. This would allow a hacker to take control the sirens at will using a simple $30 handheld radio and a laptop, or a transmit capable software defined radio.

This security research release comes after the Dallas tornado siren hack, which occurred in early 2017. During that hack a hacker activated 156 tornado sirens placed around the city of Dallas, Texas. In contrast to SirenJack, the Dallas siren hack was most likely caused by a more standard replay or brute force attack, since simple DTMF tones are used to activate Dallas' siren system.

ATI Systems have indicated that they have already patched the vulnerability as Bastille responsibly disclosed the vulnerability to them 3 months prior. However, it is likely that sirens created by other contractors in other states may have the same or similar vulnerabilities.

In the video below Balint shows the SirenJack vulnerability in action on a test siren setup. During the test he is able to take control of the siren and transmit any arbitrary audio to it using a software defined radio. Several other SirenJack video are available on Bastille's YouTube channel

A Review of the HackRF PortaPack (With Havoc Firmware)

The PortaPack is a US$220 add-on for the HackRF software defined radio (HackRF + PortaPack + Accessory Amazon bundle) which allows you to go portable with the HackRF and a battery pack. It features a small touchscreen LCD and an iPod like control wheel that is used to control custom HackRF firmware which includes an audio receiver, several built in digital decoders and transmitters too. With the PortaPack no PC is required to receive or transmit with the HackRF.

Of course as you are fixed to custom firmware, it's not possible to run any software that has already been developed for Windows or Linux systems in the past. The official firmware created by the PortaPack developer Jared Boone has several decoders and transmitters built into it, but the third party 'Havoc' firmware by 'furrtek' is really what you'll want to use with it since it contains many more decoders and transmit options.

As of the time of this post the currently available decoders and transmit options can be seen in the screenshots below. The ones in green are almost fully implemented, the ones in yellow are working with some features missing, and the ones in grey are planned to be implemented in the future. Note that for the transmitter options, there are some there that could really land you in trouble with the law so be very careful to exercise caution and only transmit what you are legally allowed to.

Some screenshots from the HackRF Portapack Havok Firmware
Some screenshots from the HackRF Portapack Havoc Firmware
More Havok firmware screenshots from the GitHub page.
More Havoc firmware screenshots from the GitHub page.

Although the PortaPack was released several years ago we never did a review on it as the firmware was not developed very far beyond listening to audio and implementing a few transmitters. But over time the Havok firmware, as well as the official firmware has been developed further, opening up many new interesting applications for the PortaPack.

Doing a replay attack on a wireless keyfob using the Portapack.
Doing a replay attack on a wireless keyfob using the PortaPack.

Testing the PortaPack with the Havoc Firmware

Capture and Replay

One of the best things about the PortaPack is that it makes capture and replay of wireless signals like those from ISM band remote controls extremely easy. To create a capture we just need to enter the "Capture" menu, set the frequency of the remote key, press the red 'R' Record button and then press the key on the remote. Then stop the recording to save it to the SD Card.

Now you can go into the Replay menu, select the file that you just recorded and hit play. The exact same signal will be transmitted over the air, effectively replacing your remote key.

We tested this using a simple remote alarm system and it worked flawlessly first time. The video below shows how easy the whole process is.

Continue reading

Explaining and Demonstrating Jam and Replay Attacks on Keyless Entry Systems with RTL-SDR, RPiTX and a Yardstick One

Thank you to Christopher for submitting to us an article that he's written for a project of his that demonstrates how vulnerable vehicle keyless entry systems are to jam and replay attacks. In the article he explains what a jam and replay attack is, the different types of keyless entry security protocols, and how an attack can be performed with low cost off the shelf hardware. He explains a jam and replay attack as follows:

The attacker utilises a device with full-duplex RF capabilities (simultaneous transmit and receive) to produce a jamming signal, in order to prevent the car from receiving the valid code from the key fob. This is possible as RKEs are often designed with a receive band that is wider than the bandwidth of the key fob signal (refer Figure 3, right). The device simultaneously intercepts the rolling code by using a tighter receive band, and stores it for later use. When the user presses the key fob again, the device captures the second code, and transmits the first code, so that the user’s required action is performed (lock or unlock) (Kamkar, 2015). This results in the attacker possessing the next valid rolling code, providing them with access to the vehicle. The process can be repeated indefinitely by placing the device in the vicinity of the car. Note that if the user unlocks the car using the mechanical key after the first try, the second code capture is not required, and the first code can be used to unlock the vehicle.

In his demonstrating the attack he uses the RTL-SDR to initially find the frequency that they keyfob operates at and to analyze the signal and determine some of it's properties. He then uses a Raspberry Pi running RPiTX to generate a jamming signal, and the YardStick One to capture and replay the car keyfob signal.

Jam and Replay Hardware: Raspberry Pi running RpiTX for the Jamming and a Yardstick One for Capture and Replay.
Jam and Replay Hardware: Raspberry Pi running RpiTX for the Jamming and a Yardstick One for Capture and Replay.

Upcoming Book “Inside Radio: An Attack and Defense Guide”

Unicorn team are information security researchers who often also dabble with wireless security research. Recently they have been promoting their upcoming text book titled "Inside Radio: An Attack and Defense Guide".

Judging from the blurb and released contents the book will be an excellent introduction to anyone interested in today's wireless security issues. They cover topics such as RFID, Bluetooh, ZigBee, GSM, LTE and GPS. In regards to SDRs, the book specifically covers SDRs like the RTL-SDR, HackRF, bladeRF and LimeSDR and their role in wireless security research. They also probably reference and show how to use those SDRs in the  chapters about replay attacks, ADS-B security risks, and GSM security.

The book is yet to be released and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon or Springer for US$59.99. The expected release date is May 9, 2018, and copies will also be for sale at the HITB SECCONF 2018 conference during 9 - 13 April in Amsterdam.

The blurb and released contents are pasted below. See their promo page for the full contents list:

This book discusses the security issues in a wide range of wireless devices and systems, such as RFID, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GSM, LTE, and GPS. It collects the findings of recent research by the UnicornTeam at 360 Technology, and reviews the state-of-the-art literature on wireless security. The book also offers detailed case studies and theoretical treatments – specifically it lists numerous laboratory procedures, results, plots, commands and screenshots from real-world experiments. It is a valuable reference guide for practitioners and researchers who want to learn more about the advanced research findings and use the off-the-shelf tools to explore the wireless world.

Qing YANG is the founder of UnicornTeam & the head of the Radio Security Research Department at 360 Technology. He has vast experience in information security area. He has presented at Black Hat, DEFCON, CanSecWest, HITB, Ruxcon, POC, XCon, China ISC etc.

Lin HUANG is a senior wireless security researcher and SDR technology expert at 360 Technology. Her interests include security issues in wireless communication, especially cellular network security. She was a speaker at Black Hat, DEFCON, and HITB security conferences. She is 360 Technology’s 3GPP SA3 delegate.

This book is a joint effort by the entire UnicornTeam, including Qiren GU, Jun LI, Haoqi SHAN, Yingtao ZENG, and Wanqiao ZHANG etc.


Transmitting RF Music Directly From the System Bus on your PC

Recently we've come into knowledge of a program on GitHub called "System Bus Radio" which lets you transmit RF directly from your computer, laptop or phone without any transmitting hardware at all. It works on the principle of manipulating the unintentional RF radiation produced by a computers system bus by sending instructions that can produce different AM tones. An SDR like the RTL-SDR V3 or RTL-SDR with upconverter, or any portable AM radio that can tune down to 1580 kHz can be used to receive the tones. To run the software don't even need to download or compile anything, as there is now a web based app that you can instantly run which will play a simple song.

However, the RF emissions don't seem to occur on every PC, or are perhaps at another frequency. We tested a Windows desktop and Dell laptop and found that no were signals produced. A list of field reports indicates that it is mostly MacBook Pro and Air computers that produce the signal, with some transmitting signals strong enough to be received from a few centimeters to up to 2m away. This could obviously be a security risk if a sophisticated attacker was able to sniff these tones and recover data.

This program runs instructions on the computer that cause electromagnetic radiation. The emissions are of a broad frequency range. To be accepted by the radio, those frequencies must:

  • Be emitted by the computer processor and other subsystems
  • Escape the computer shielding
  • Pass through the air or other obstructions
  • Be accepted by the antenna
  • Be selected by the receiver

By trial and error, the above frequency was found to be ideal for that equipment. If somebody would like to send me a SDR that is capable of receiving 100 kHz and up then I could test other frequencies.

There is also an interesting related piece of software based on System Bus Radio called 'musicplayer', which takes a .wav file and allows you to transmit the modulated music directly via the system bus.

If you're interested in unintentionally emitted signals from PCs, have a look at this previous post showing how to recover images from the unintentional signals emitted by computer monitors. This is also similar to RPiTX which is a similar concept for Raspberry Pi's.

System Bus Radio web app
System Bus Radio web app

Reverse Engineering or Brute Forcing Wireless Powerplug Remote Controls with a HackRF One

Over on his blog "Foo-Manroot" has created a post where he shows us how he can control a wirelessly controlled powerplug with his HackRF. These power plugs can be used to turn electrically devices on or off remotely, and their wireless protocol is often simple On-Off Keying (OOK) with little to no security.

Foo-Manroot first explains how easily capture and replay a signal with the HackRF. If the signal is simple without any security like rolling codes then a simple replay attack like this will allow the HackRF to control the device quite easily. In the next section he goes on to explain how to actually analyze and synthesize the packets yourself using Python and GNU Radio. Finally he also shows that a brute force attack can be applied once you know how to synthesize the signal. Brute forcing runs over every possible packet combination in a short time and this can be pretty fast for simple protocols like those used in wireless remote controls. His post also includes all the GNU Radio files required so it is easy for someone to replicate his work easily.

If you are interested in controlling simple OOK devices like a wireless powerplug with replay attacks then we have a tutorial for doing this with a simple RTL-SDR and Raspberry Pi running RpiTX which might be useful for those who don't have a HackRF.

HackRF Controlling the Wireless Power Outlet by Brute Forcing Packets
HackRF Controlling the Wireless Power Outlet by Brute Forcing Packets


Reverse Engineering for a Secure Future: Talk by Samy Kamkar

During the Hackaday superconference held during November 2017, Samy Kamkar presented a talk on how he reverse engineers devices, and in particular passive entry and start systems in vehicles. In the talk he also explains what tools he uses which includes SDRs like the HackRF One and RTL-SDR dongle and explains the methodology that he takes when looking at how to reverse engineer any new device. Samy is most famous for writing the Samy MySpace computer worm and also popularizing the "RollJam" wireless car door vulnerability. The talk blurb reads:

In this talk Samy Kamkar shares the exciting details on researching closed systems & creating attack tools to (demonstrate) wirelessly unlocking and starting cars with low-cost tools, home made PCBs, RFID/RF/SDR & more. He describes how to investigate an unknown system, especially when dealing with chips with no public datasheets and undisclosed protocols. Learn how vehicles communicate with keyfobs (LF & UHF), and ultimately how a device would work that can automatically detect the makes/models of keyfobs nearby. Once the keyfobs have been detected, an attacker could choose a vehicle and the device can wirelessly unlock & start the ignition. Like Tinder, but for cars.