Security Concerns with Wireless Sensor Networks

Sensor networks are becoming very popular these days. The reasons being are that they can monitor a range of sensor data in varied environments and are very cool. But security is usually not a top concern with sensor networks, that is until now.

A sensor network is a network of devices, like motes, that collect data and relay the information back for monitoring. Some of these devices are about the size of a quarter and they can detect movement, temperature, light, sound, humidity, and stress. These things from a techno geek perspective are amazing. They are usually very small, can monitor conditions on the fly and create an intelligent fault tolerant wireless network amongst themselves.

Sensor networks can be used in a vast variety of applications like military use, agricultural, utilities and commercial. Basically, anywhere you need real-time monitoring and reporting of sensor data.  The data is then collected and sent into your corporate network for analysis and reporting.

The very nature of Wireless Sensor Networks opens them up to real security concerns. Thanassis Giannetsos, a sensor network security expert at Recurity Labs, has outlined the security issues of these networks and proven that they can be compromised and even used to spread malware to each other.

Using a tool that he created, he was able to compromise the security of sensor networks. He was able to sniff sensor node traffic and also inject packets and even malware onto the system. He was able to make a sinkhole in the network, this made his device look like it had a higher quality connection than surrounding nodes causing all of them to transmit only to his device, and then forward only the data that he wanted to pass along. He was also able to alter the contents of the traffic and replay it. And lastly, Thanassis successfully injected a self replicating worm into the network.

Because there are currently no tools to detect sensor network malware yet, these types of attacks could be very dangerous. Until Sensor Network security is increased, people designing sensor networks need to keep these things in mind, because they could offer an open door to system data. Attention must be paid to data logging, verification and physical security.

A white paper and Powerpoint on Mr. Giannetsos’s research can be found at Blackhat Europe.


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