Busting the Myths of Hardware Based Security

Many experts often overlook hardware based security and its vital importance in establishing a secure workspace.

When it comes to cybersecurity, everyone likes to talk about software and the dangers that it poses. However, people often overlook hardware-based security and its vital importance in establishing a secure workspace. This is attributed to a general lack of knowledge when it comes to hardware security and how it works. So, it’s time to bust some myths that you might think are true when it comes to hardware security.  

Myth #1: We never hear about hardware-based attacks, they don’t exist!  

Just because you don’t hear about the problem frequently, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Usually, cyberattacks that make the headlines are those involving large corporations that have fallen victim to a software-based attack carried out by infamous cybercrime syndicates. These stories are juicy and scandalous and entice audiences to read the article, generating more clicks onto the media outlet’s website. Additionally, many businesses choose to withhold information pertaining to hardware-based attacks as it indicates insufficient physical security, which reflects negatively upon the business. Another reason why you don’t often hear about hardware-based attacks is that enterprises who fall victim to them are oblivious to it. When an enterprise gets breached, the natural assumption is that it was due to a software vulnerability or phishing scam. Such misunderstanding, coupled with a lack of resources to detect a hardware attack tool, results in the attack method getting misconstrued.

However, that is not to say that hardware-based attacks don’t receive any media attention. A great example that receives public resonance concerns ATMs. These cash dispensing machines are becoming a go-to target for cybercriminals because of the instant payout. Instead of using brute force attacks on ATMs, cybercriminals can now just attach a hardware attack tool, known as a Black Box, to the internal computer to trick it into releasing cash through a MiTM attack. Since 2021, Black Box attacks have been on the rise and have amounted to losses of 1.5 million Euros in Europe alone.  

Myth #2: We have security measures in place, and all our employees use VPNs – we are protected!

Yes, your security measures like NAC, IDS/IDP, firewalls and VPNs definitely provide some level of protection. However, malicious actors are continually evolving and finding new attack methods, which means exploiting blind spots, one of which is the hardware domain. Existing security solutions lack visibility into the Physical Layer (Layer 1), leaving them unfit to defend against, let alone identify, hardware-based attack tools. These malicious devices are designed to evade detection by operating on the Physical Layer and mimic human-like commands and executions, making them extremely dangerous as they can carry out a variety of harmful attacks without any obstacles in their way. If you are unable to determine all your assets’ hardware information within 10 seconds, you are, in fact, not protected.

Myth #3: “We don’t use USBs, so why should it concern us”   

That’s a line we’ve heard many times before, but here’s the thing: you do, and it should!  

Sure, your organization might not use flash drives and there might be some authorization capabilities in EPS/EDR solutions that block phones, keyboards and mice with certain VID/PIDs. That’s great, but what about the keyboards employees use to type? And the mice they use to navigate? Correct, those are USBs. They might be authorized, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get impersonated by a covert spoofing device. So long as there are HIDs in the work environment, there is the risk that one (or more) may be illegitimate. And without Physical Layer visibility, there’s no mechanism in place to determine what’s legitimate or not.

Myth #4: Why would anyone want to hack us; we aren’t an interesting target?

That’s where you’re wrong. In today’s day and age, almost anything that has data is of value and there is someone out there who wants to access it, no matter how mundane it could be. Not all hackers target large nuclear facilities or governmental institutions; the risk is usually too high for most cybercriminals. Your company, however, is a prime target – there’s data and it’s accessible. Whether the perpetrator wants to steal information for monetary gain, access it to gain a competitive advantage, or encrypt it in a ransomware attack, your company provides that opportunity and a hardware attack tool can do the job.

In short, every enterprise is a target for malicious actors; it can happen to anyone for any number of reasons. The important thing to remember is that you can prepare and build your company’s resistance to these attacks by gaining visibility on the Physical Layer through hardware-based security.

About the author: Julien Katzenmaier, Content Writer at Sepio

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Hardware Based Security)

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