7 Ways Hackers Use to Take Advantage of Firmware Vulnerabilities

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At Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft revealed that they have discovered a Russian hacker group called Strontium. They exploited vulnerabilities in the firmware and succeeded in compromising different types of IoT devices to get access to enterprise networks. Before you understand firmware vulnerabilities, it is important to understand what is firmware? Firmware is basically a piece of code that gives you low-level control of the hardware.

Firmware is commonly unprotected and gives hackers access to your devices and network. This makes it a lucrative target for cybercriminals who can use it as a ladder to get access to your systems. The main objective of finding a vulnerability in IoT systems is to use these devices as a launching pad for malicious attacks that can affect your entire network whether it is malware distribution or DDoS attack.

In this article, you will learn about seven ways hackers use to exploit vulnerabilities in firmware and what you can do about it.

7 Ways Hackers Use to Exploit Firmware Vulnerabilities

Here are seven ways hackers use to capitalize on firmware vulnerabilities.

  1. Secret backdoors
  2. Fragile Authentication
  3. Unauthorized Access
  4. Password Hashes
  5. Open source code
  6. Encryption Keys
  7. Buffer Overflows
  8. Secret Backdoors

Hidden backdoors are one of the favorite channels cybercriminals use to exploit firmware vulnerabilities. Backdoors can give cyberattackers remote access to anyone that has a piece of secret authentication information. When it comes to finding backdoors, hackers are great at it. Once a hacker identifies a secret backdoor, they can use it to wreak havoc on your critical business assets. That is why it is important that you identify loopholes in your security systems before someone else can exploit it and take advantage of them. 

Fragile Authentication

Most firmware usually comes with a weak authentication mechanism, which puts them at a far greater risk. Whether you are using single-factor authentication to authenticate users or using weak cryptographic algorithms which can easily be cracked with brute force attack, it gives hackers easy access to your account and data stored on the Miami dedicated servers or database. That is why it is important to use more secure authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication or biometric authentication. Even if you are using passwords, make sure you follow password best practices.

Unauthorized Access

With hundreds of IoT devices connected to your network, you can easily lose track of these devices. As a result, you might end up with dozens of unattended devices, which cyber attackers can take control of. What’s even worse is that these IoT devices lack a mechanism to prevent unauthorized access. Due to this, threat actors can easily gain access to device data but also get control of the device. Implement multi-factor authentication and add an extra layer of protection. Even if the hackers manage to guess your passwords and gain unauthorized access, they will not be able to access your accounts.

Password Hashes

Device firmware usually contains hard-coded passwords. This means that users can not change those passwords. This makes hackers happy as it is easier for them to crack passwords that do not change as compared to passwords that change frequently. We saw an example of this in 2016 when the Mirai botnet successfully infected 2.5 million IoT devices and used it to launch a DDoS attack. It was one of the biggest DDoS attacks in history as it brought sites like Netflix, New York Times and Amazon down to their knees.

Open Source Code

No one can deny the fact that open source technologies, framework and coding libraries are beneficial but there is another side of it too. Yes, it might accelerate the development of advanced IoT devices, but it can also pose a security risk. Most IoT devices leverage open source components that usually have undocumented and unknown source code. As a result, this leaves your device firmware exposed to cyber-attacks. If you are using an open-source platform, make sure you update it to the latest version. Older versions might have bugs and vulnerabilities which can be exploited by hackers.

Encryption Keys

Most businesses think that they can protect their data by encrypting it, which is not true, especially if you don’t follow encryption best practices. Moreover, if you have chosen an old encryption format such as DES, it can easily be cracked by hackers. The worst part, many organizations are still using outdated encryption methods to encrypt their data and think that they are safe. Unfortunately, it is the other way around. By getting access to encryption keys, hackers can not only gain access to your device but can also spy on communication taking place and create rogue devices to launch malicious attacks.

Buffer Overflows

When a programmer codes firmware, they tend to use insecure string handling functions and methods. This leads to a buffer overflow. Hackers are always on the lookout for such anomalies in the code in order to trigger application crashes. When an application crashes, it can pave the way for security breaches. Hackers can not only remotely access devices but can also use them to inject malicious code by using buffer overflow. That is why it is important that you exercise extra caution and take steps to minimize buffer overflow-based attacks.


Cyber attackers look for gaps in your cybersecurity systems and when they find one, they don’t wait long to take advantage of it. By using password hashes, exploiting open source code and taking advantage of weak authentication, hackers can make the most of firmware vulnerabilities and achieve the goals. Your goal is to patch those firmware vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by hackers. Keep your encryption keys safe and sound so they cannot be stolen by others. They are prime targets for hackers and will give them access to your data. Similarly, patch issues can lead to a buffer overflow. 

How do you fix the firmware vulnerabilities and protect your business from cyber-attacks? Let us know in the comments section below.

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