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Turning GPS Tracking Devices Against Their Owners 46

ancientribe writes "Those low-cost embedded tracking devices in your smartphone or those personal GPS devices that track the whereabouts of your children, your car, your pet, or a shipment can easily be intercepted by hackers, who can then pinpoint their whereabouts, impersonate them, and spoof their physical location. A researcher demonstrated at SOURCE Boston how he was able to hack Zoombak's popular personal tracking devices."
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Turning GPS Tracking Devices Against Their Owners

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  • Matter of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @07:06PM (#35911102)
    As a consumer, I assumed security.
    As a technological thinker, I feared this.
    • As a consumer, I assumed security.

      As a technological thinker, I feared this.

      Joke's on them. The GPS in my Nokia phone is so piss poor as to be unusable. 5-10 mins to lock on a signal and requires clear view of the sky (In pocket won't do). If they try to track me using that my response is simple laughter. :P

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @07:07PM (#35911110) Journal

    Technology can be hacked and used against you? Dang.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If everyone has access to the information (signals flying through the air) it will eventually be used against you! This is yet another reason why people should never carry their phone all the time, unless you don't mind being tracked.

    Privacy these days is a dying luxury!

    • If you were really that worried, you could turn the phone off and/or take the battery out until you were ready to phone home.

      • by Nialin ( 570647 )
        Android user here: I can to go Settings > Location & Security and turn off "Use Wireless Networks" and "Use GPS Satellites" location settings.
        Any time I use an app that requires location information, it cannot find me.
        Additionally, with those settings turned off, when I take a picture and look up the EXIF Data [exifdata.com], the GPS information is blank.

        It may or may not be as secure as I think it is, but that's pretty efficient in my book.
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      It's not an "if". Anyone who cares to has access to the signals your phone is sending through the air. Never forget that the act of transmitting radio signals is called broadcasting for a reason. Even if an eavesdropper can't decrypt your encrypted signal, they can do simple traffic analysis to identify when and where, and use other investigative methods to figure out who, and possibly what.

      People don't really think about their own privacy much, and if they do they simply assume it just works via magic o

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Android market has an app that claims to change a device's GPS location. Is their an equivalent for cell tower tracking?

    How about deleting location cache file.

  • Hijacking? Kidnapping??? Who IS this guy, Donald Rumsfeld using a nom-de-plume? Or perhaps a nom-deguerre as the case may be.

    How about just saying someone could use it for mischief, instead of giving us the Ultimate Doomsday of Deadly Doom?

    • In his defense most of the people that use these devices do so because they are concerned about their cargoes being hijacked or their children being kidnapped. If that is not the case, then more traditional means of tracking cargoes and children are probably more than adequate.

      • While I would say you could be correct, I would suspect most people use their devices to track their vehicles or suspected cheating spouses and boyfriend/girlfriends and errant teenagers. The original Zoombak's were designed for tracking pets - dogs - not people. Though, what people use them for is their own business.

        This guy is trying to drum up business for his consulting firm. This isn't to say his attack isn't real or represent a real threat to the industry. But, for the common thief or sexual predat

    • He's talking about devices specifically designed to track cargo in transit and to tell paranoid parents where their kid is at all times. So he's pointing out that these devices not only don't help with what they are designed for but in fact make things worse.

  • Note to self: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @07:41PM (#35911330)
    Leave my cell at home when I'm out cheating on my wife.
    • by crossmr ( 957846 )

      or just marry a woman who can barely turn on a computer...

    • Knives don't cut food, only fools who put their fingers on the knife handles and make oscillating motions cut food. Don't blame the knife, blame the person. Why not use a bandsaw at home. Home is really a place for high powered utensils.
    • Uh, or just take out the battery, so she doesn't see that you left it.

      I take out the battery when I go places sometimes just to confuse the tracking systems.

      It's amazing how we have brought these listening devices into our lives...

  • by masterwit ( 1800118 ) * on Friday April 22, 2011 @07:59PM (#35911470) Journal

    The article was quite Slashdotted, bad link, or something... found it and reposted below.
    (Also, I found the bold sections funny.)

    Weaponizing GPS Tracking Devices

    Posted by Kelly Jackson Higgins on Friday Apr 22nd at 5:05am
    Those low-cost embedded tracking devices in your smartphone or those personal GPS devices that track the whereabouts of your children, car, pet, or shipment can easily be intercepted by hackers, who can then pinpoint their whereabouts, impersonate them, and spoof their physical location, a researcher has discovered.

    Security researcher Don Bailey at SOURCE Boston today disclosed the newest phase of his research on the lack of security in embedded devices, demonstrating how he is able to hack vendor Zoombak's personal GPS locator devices in order to find, target, and impersonate the user or equipment rigged with these consumer-focused devices. Bailey, a security consultant with iSEC Partners, decided to call out the widely available products from Zoombak after the vendor and its parent company Securus Inc. didn't respond when he alerted them about the security weaknesses. Mitigating these attacks would only require a few simple changes to the product, he says. Meanwhile, the threat is real, he says. "Anyone with a little hardware knowledge could reverse-engineer this," he says. "Children are physically at [risk] because these devices can be turned into weapons."

    Bailey also released tools today for each of the three attacks he demonstrated at SOURCE Boston.

    "Embedded devices are low-cost, easy to use, and easy to debug. And the security landscape is very small," Bailey says. "There is very little capability for integrating secure communications on the devices and ensuring that it's your code executing on there."

    The underlying issue is that the low-cost and rapid commoditization of these embedded systems precludes their being properly secured. "There's a low entry point for people to develop them, so you have a serious problem because new developers and new startups don't have an understanding of security. It's an insecure product by default," he says.

    Embedded system security is tricky in that there are so many moving parts in the final products, including baseband, GPS firmware, application firmware, and SIM software, according to Bailey.

    It's not just consumer GPS tracking devices that are vulnerable, either. Bailey says he was also able to hack server SCADA embedded systems. "I was able to remotely compromise the box in its entirety" via the microcontroller on it, he says.

    With the Zoombak device, Bailey was able to discover the tracking devices, profile them, using what he calls "war texting," to intercept their location. Zoombak uses a Web 2.0 interface that provides a map showing the GPS-equipped person or payload's physical location. The devices receive commands via SMS text messages.

    In the first attack, Bailey forced the device to send him its physical location using techniques to grab the GPS coordinates and local cell tower information. "I can force those devices to bypass the manufacturer's controls and give me their information and they have no idea that I've intercepted their location," he says.

    Once he fingerprinted the device, he can determine just what it is. "I know if it's a semi, a mail van, or a teenager driving the family car just by watching the vehicle for a certain period of time. I can use traffic cameras on Google satellite," he says. That would leave the GPS-outfitted person or payload prone to physical attack, he says.

    Bailey was also able to impersonate the Zoombak personal GPS tracking device. "I use it as a weapon to fake the location data. If it's a truck on I-70, I can take the device and force it to send false location to the server and meantime, could hijack the truck," he explains. Zoombak's command and control channel is in the clear, unencrypted.

    These devices could be locked down with some type of PKI on the microcompu

  • I suspect Zoombak will close the hole fairly quickly. Fear not.

    I would love to read more on his methods.

    The question is which Zoombak devices did he compromise? Was it their Zoombak 520, 521 or the Securus eClick (Zoombak was acquired by them) series?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I doubt it, the actual product was a contract to design by an off-shore firm; a couple of years back, I met the bulk of their technical staff. They might be bigger now, but it would take handshaking and confirmation codes, maybe even physical changes on both the targets and collectors, in short a lot of work. While zoomback is (or was) 'lean and mean', they do have some seemingly deep corporate pockets, so they shouldn't have any problem funding the change. The question is, can they get a stable soluti
  • Or kids could use them to fool their parents or criminals to forge an alibi. Instead of impersonating someone else.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I run a server to host these tracking devices. The communication protocol used is very ridiculous on most cheap/affordable devices (haven't tried the top of the line devices, as there is little market for them). Handshake is just a simple 'Hello this is device #XXXXXX' and the whole session is just based on that simple handshake. There is NO authentication, NO encryption of any kind. Any person with basic knowledge of the device can wreak havoc on the server just by using simple perl script. Mind you that t

  • You'd think he'd know the difference between "hackers" and "crackers", right? Oh no, not him. He keeps peddling the use of "hacker" as an offensive pejorative term.

  • I just turn off the 'Location' as it is called in the n900 settings menu. I don't need it.
    If I travel somewhere and want to use the gps, i turn it on again. It is not that difficult.
    When I am in another city or abroad, I want people to be able to track me, in case something happens to me.
  • I often need to be in 2 places at once. With this "service", now I can!
  • Did he actually demonstrate SPOOFING a message from an arbitrary Zoombak device (i.e. one he did not have physical control of) OR did he send a message from one who's SIM he removed?

    Unless he demonstrated that he can SPOOF any Zoombak device at any time, all he did was capture a request to the device, figure out what the response looks like, and send back a bogus response to their server. And, he destroyed the device in the process to get the SIM out. So much for his warranty.

    So, where is the insecurity,

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.