Big Security Hole in Surveillance Cameras

By: Ethan Ace, Published on Feb 06, 2012

The mainstream press has been abuzz with an IP camera vulnerability that allows people from anywhere on the Internet to directly and easily access TRENDnet cameras without any authentication. In this note, we explain how it was done, why we believe Trendnet engineers had to know about it and what implications this has for the rest of the surveillance industry.

Firmware Exploit

While it took real skill for an outsider to find the exploit, usig the exploit itself is very simple. Basically, a standard URL exists that if entered provides direct access to the MJPEG video stream without any restrictions.

The hacker deconstructed Trendnet's firmware, manually inspecting the enclosed files. This inspection revealed multiple CGI scripts used for requesting live video. Trendnet had left a folder called 'anony' (as in anonymous access). In that folder is a file named mjpg.cgi. A request to that file returns a live video stream (e.g., http://192.168.1.17/anony/mjpg.cgi). Here's what the basic queries look like on a Linux distrobution:

The hacker then detailed a method by which users were able to search for Trendnet cameras available on the internet. Taking this information, active internet messageboards, such as Reddit and 4chan, set about finding as many open camera feeds as possible, sharing lists of IP addresses of cameras as they were found. This led to likely hundreds of readers of these sites viewing feeds and capturing stills from hundreds of IP cameras, many in private residences, along with businesses. 

Some of these captures are extremely disconcerting, looking directly into users' homes:

We suspect that Trendnet engineers knew about this security flaw, simply because it is an obvious, "in plain sight" feature for an engineer, likely used as a backdoor or a shortcut by their internal team to do testing. 

Trendnet's Response

Trendnet has since released an apology and firmware update for affected cameras. However, notice of this firmware update was sent only to those users which registered their Trendnet camera, which is typically a small percentage. Additionally, given Trendnet's position in the industry, as a low-cost manufacturer often used for residential and small business systems by less tech-savvy users, many users will be unlikely to ever hear about this issue and subsequent fix, leaving them vulnerable indefinitely. 

Implications for the Industry

While this exploit was performed on cameras from Trendnet, a minor presence in the professional surveillance industry, the implications it has for the industry as a whole are potentially huge. With so many different IP cameras available, chances are high that issues such as this exist in other manufactuers' lines. The exact hole will likely not be the same but the end result may be.

Cameras in corporate environments may be of less concern, as they are most often running on networks behind firewalls, internal to a facility. However, an attacker who gains access to the network could still use holes such as these to view feeds directly from cameras.

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