Underpowered Hardware

One of the issues with VoIP endpoints that I regularly encounter as a security researcher is the problem with underpowered hardware. Many VoIP hardware devices are initially designed with just enough horsepower to do their job in order to keep costs low and stay competitive in the market. Due to VoIP technologies evolving so rapidly and devices being updated to include many additional new features shortly after being brought to market, the software running on these devices generally outgrow the hardware and will consume the few remaining unused resources available on the device. Vendors then have to play a balancing game of what software features can be crammed onto a particular device and it still work properly.

Not only does this condition of the technology promote attacks like Denial of Service via resource exhaustion, floods, and so forth, but it also gives rise to other vulnerabilities such as this one which was detailed yesterday by Larry Dignan & George Ou. Due to the resource limitations of the hardware device, corners were cut when adding support for the device’s 802.1x PEAP authentication feature which resulted in the server certificate not being checked during authentication, which then devolves into a number of other security issues. Not only does this affect the device being discussed in the article, but it apparently also affects a number of other devices as well who’s designers cut the same corner, likely for the same reason.

Because VoIP technology evolves so rapidly, and generally grows in resource requirements by leaps and bounds while doing so, VoIP hardware vendors really should be providing much more processing power than the initial software needs when the devices are brought to market. Unfortunately the cost of including this extra horsepower initially is borne by the vendor, whereas the cost of having to upgrade (i.e., replace) masses of deployed hardware devices when their resource limitations become insurmountable is borne by the consumer.  Device replacement results in additional sales and profits for the vendor, so don’t expect properly resilient hardware devices anytime soon…

3 thoughts on “Underpowered Hardware

  1. Sachin Joglekar

    The problem of resource exhaustion can be dealt by —

    1. Adding horse power to the phone hardware (but this may be cost prohibitive to the vendors as you mentioned).

    2. Adding an IPS device in the VoIP network to monitor and control traffic going towards the phone (this requires enterprises and providers to invest in a scalable device upfront).

  2. Pingback: Sipera VIPER Lab » Blog Archive » Don’t ignore the classic attacks when securing VoIP

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