How to Hack an ADT Alarm System

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jan 26, 2015

This report explains the key steps in hacking an alarm system, like ADT, as was presented in a Defcon 22 presentation.

The risk of such a hack has become major news as a class action lawsuit was filed against ADT recently, claiming that ADT could be 'easily hacked'.

Summary

According to the Defcon 22 presentation, the most straightforward way to hack / disable an alarm system is to:

  • Find out the frequency the alarm system transmitter uses from publicly available FCC documentation.
  • Get a software defined radio, set it to that frequency to jam it.
  • Periodically, for very short periods of time, stop jamming to overcome / trick anti-jamming functionality in the system.

For those interested in reading the original research, see Logan Lamb's Defcon 22 whitepaper and presentation.

Finding Frequencies

The hack relies on knowing which unencrypted wireless frequencies are used by intrusion alarms.  Specifically, the frequency band used by individual types of sensors and devices. In the US, commercially sold wireless devices are issued licenses by the FCC and the specific frequency they use for communication is public record.

For example, Honeywell's license catalog includes over 300 license applications since late 2011. The record includes frequency information for devices like:

Indeed, even 'proprietary' systems sold to major alarm companies carry public FCC filings, like this ADT keypad and the entire wireless 2GIG catalog.

A quick search of most major alarm companies return records, including

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

  • UTC (GE, Tyco, ADT) (310.0 MHz to ~990 MHz)
  • Vivint (~905.0 MHz)
  • Napco (~319.0 MHz - 320.0 MHz )
  • Sensormatic (~550.0 MHz - 927.25 MHz)

See the full list of companies with FCC applications on file here.

To exploit this weakness, the main challenge is knowing which system / transceiver the site being targeted uses. This would be easiest for inside jobs, but possibly quite hard going after a facility one has never been in. In any case, prominently displaying window stickers or yard signs could actually assist a hacker into zeroing in on a specific range of frequencies:

Software Defined Radio

The equipment needed to search out, monitor, and jam these frequencies are commonly classified as 'SDRs' or 'Software Defined Radios' and are widely available. The primary function of these devices is to scan a range of radio bandwidth for activity on known frequencies. Using USB connected scanner cards and laptops, an entire spectrum of wireless traffic is visable:

The specific type of SDR demoed in the Defcon hack is profiled in the video clip below:

Once wireless alarm activity is observed, exploiting it is straightforward. For example, this Vivint Motion Detector is shown to operate at 345.0 MHz. Disrupting normal communication with the wireless control panel requires overpowering or jamming alarm signal from that sensor using the same setup.  

Overcoming Anti-Jam Protection

Some alarm systems are equipped with anti-jamming features that monitor for this tactic. The cyber-researchers found that if the jamming is turned off for a fraction of a second, and right back on that it would still stop the system from triggering its anti-jam alert while still blocking real alerts from being sent when an intrusion occurs. In general, panel RF Jamming features must be enabled by the installer.

For example, the researchers defeated Honeywell's protection by running a jam for 20 seconds, turning it off for one second, then rerunning the jamming routine. (See Defcon Whitepaper Section 4.3.2) This process effectively defeated the panel's anti-jamming protection. Another exploit for 2GIG/Vivint panels modified the process by turning the jam on for 50 seconds, but turning it off for 0.2 seconds.

The specific parameters of an anti-jam process vary according to panel type, but researchers found the protection could be defeated with trial and error in test systems.

Not a Cheap Hack

The equipment cyber-researchers used to pull off the exploits are quite expensive. The pricing for the requisite SDR with ample power ranges between $1000 and $4000 USD, and require a high level of technical experience to deploy effectively. 

The Defcon researcher reported his setup cost more than $2000, a cost that will certainly be out of reach or tolerance for many 'smash & grab' criminals.

While SDRs are easy to get and inexpensively available online, like this $15 example from Amazon, their effectiveness has not been evaluated. The whitepaper only reflects results achieved by using moderately expensive, professional gear.

Other Advanced but More Complex Exploits

The equipment and basic process of this exploit can be modified into other methods for tricking alarm systems. For example, the basic jamming attack might also be used to spoof the (non-alarming) presence of supervised alarm sensors if exact device details are known. However, such an attack would likely require significant time investment not typical of random 'smash and grab' robberies. These are explained in more detail in Logan Lamb's Defcon 22 whitepaper.

8 reports cite this report:

European Startup Ajax Profile - They "Stand Against Evil" on Jan 03, 2019
European intrusion detection startup Ajax Systems proclaims: How are they standing against evil? And what are the differentiators and potential...
Simplisafe 'All New' Generation 3 Tested on Feb 08, 2018
Feared by the traditional alarm industry, Simplisafe has launched its 'all new' Generation 3 platform that they declare is "Stronger. Faster....
Testing DMP XTLPlus / Virtual Keypad Vs Alarm.com & Honeywell on Dec 13, 2017
DMP has a strong presence in commercial intrusion alarms, but not in residential. However, the company's XTLPLus wireless combo panel and Virtual...
Wireless Burglar Alarm Sensors Guide on Jul 21, 2017
Wireless sensors for burglar alarm sensors are an increasingly common option for the historical labor intensive wired alarm systems. However,...
2Gig Intrusion Megatest (GC2 & GC3 Panels Tested) on Mar 28, 2017
2Gig is one of the most widely used intrusion systems, with two product lines that are the main offering of many alarm companies, huge national...
DMP Intrusion Tested (XR Series) on Mar 09, 2017
DMP is a major provider of intrusion systems, but lacks the global brand recognition of some of its rivals (such as Bosch, Honeywell, DSC, or...
Bosch Intrusion Detection Profile on Aug 10, 2016
This is a first in a new IPVM series profiling intrusion detection / alarm offerings. In this series, starting with Bosch, we examine: Key...
ADI Scare Tactics Against DIY Security on Nov 27, 2015
ADI wants you to buy alarm system parts from them, not those kits on the Internet. Leveraging scare tactics, they have made an unsurprisingly...

Comments (3)

Only IPVM PRO Members may comment. Login or Join.

Great article, we do our best to stay away from wireless alarm devices. However, when we do use them we use spread spectrum, 2 way wireless.

May I ask what specific products you use?

This was an old post! We actually do a lot of wireless now and we use DMP. Both residential and commercial including commercial fire alarm with DMP wireless.

Related Reports on Wireless

Ubiquiti Favorability Results 2019 on Feb 18, 2019
Ubiquiti has quietly grown into a $1+ billion annual revenue company, with offerings across wireless, wireline network and video surveillance (see...
Designing Access Control Guide on Jan 30, 2019
Designing an access control solution requires decisions on 8 fundamental questions. This in-depth guide helps you understand the options and...
Access Control Cabling Tutorial on Jan 15, 2019
Access Control is only as reliable as its cables. While this aspect lacks the sexiness of other components, it remains a vital part of every...
Spring 2019 IP Networking Course on Jan 10, 2019
You can register for the Spring 2019 IP Networking course here. This is the only networking course designed specifically for video surveillance...
European Startup Ajax Profile - They "Stand Against Evil" on Jan 03, 2019
European intrusion detection startup Ajax Systems proclaims: How are they standing against evil? And what are the differentiators and potential...
Ubiquiti Protect Video Surveillance Profile on Nov 07, 2018
Ubiquiti has now been in the video surveillance market for 7 years (see our first coverage back in 2011). In that time, the company's revenue has...
Directory Of Video Doorbells on Nov 06, 2018
Video doorbells are one of the fastest growing categories in video surveillance, especially among residences. The optimal placement of these...
Solar-Powered, Smart-Phone-Based Access Kit (VIZPin) Examined on Nov 02, 2018
Cloud-based access control company VIZPin is releasing a solar-powered and smart phone based access control system for gates and other remote...
IP Camera Installation Tool Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Ideal, Hanwha, Triplett, Veracity on Oct 23, 2018
Setting up IP cameras has historically been challenging, with techs often precariously using a laptop on a ladder or lift. Some options for install...
IP Camera Installability Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Oct 08, 2018
What are the best and worst cameras from an installation standpoint? Which manufacturers make it harder or easier to install their cameras? We...

Most Recent Industry Reports

From The Basement To Buried Behind Chinatown: ISC West Emerging Technology Zone on Feb 22, 2019
What does ISC West think about 'Emerging Technology'? Well, last year, they put those companies in the basement. This year, they moved them up to...
Private School IT Manager Surveillance Interview on Feb 22, 2019
This IT manager describes himself as the "oft-maligned IT person" whose "opinions may not always be appreciated by the integrator crowd." But he is...
Outdoor Camera Mounting Hardware Guide on Feb 21, 2019
Mounting cameras outdoors can be challenging, requiring understanding different types of equipment and methods. In this guide, we teach this...
HID Favorability Results 2019 on Feb 21, 2019
HID favorability results were strong, in the 2019 IPVM integrator study of 200+ integrators, with a net +62% and low negativity as the table below...
First US State, Vermont, Bans Dahua and Hikvision on Feb 21, 2019
The first US state, Vermont, has issued a ban on a number of Chinese and Russian manufacturers including the world's 2 largest video surveillance...
ADI 'SAVE BIG' On FLIR And Hikvision Examined on Feb 20, 2019
One is a major US defense supplier. The other is owned by the Chinese government. But you can "SAVE BIG" on both at ADI. In this note, we...
BluB0x Company Profile on Feb 20, 2019
BluB0x has doubled in revenue every year since its founding in 2013, according to CEO Patrick Barry. We originally reported on them in 2015. At the...
Massive Leak Of Chinese VMS Provider Exposes Xinjiang Surveillance on Feb 20, 2019
A subsidiary of China’s claimed largest VMS provider is tracking the precise location and ethnicity of millions in China’s Xinjiang region,...
Security Installation Tools Guide - 22 Tools Listed on Feb 19, 2019
In this guide, we cover 22 tools that security installers frequently use. This is one part of our upcoming Video Surveillance...
Sales Cuts At Rasilient on Feb 19, 2019
Over the past 2 years, video surveillance storage specialist Rasilient has expanded its workforce significantly, aiming to build its own branded...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact