New research shows that connected smart light can be used as a covert-channel to exfiltrate the user’s private data by taking advantage of light emitted by modern smart bulbs.
Researchers from the University of Texas published a paper on evaluating the novel attacks that take advantage these connected lights create a new attack surface, which can be maliciously used to violate users privacy.
The research paper evaluates the feasibility of exploiting smart light’s infrared lighting functionality of and to exfiltrate the user private data invisibility from the secured personal device.
Attackers can launch such a novel attack by carefully manipulating the infrared light by creating a covert-channel communication between the smart lights and the device that senses the infrared light. By having a malicious agent installed on the phone the attackers can encode the private data and transfer them through the infrared covert channel.
Researchers have taken the two popular LIFX and Phillips Hue smart light systems that support millions of colors for examination.
Threats Taking Advantage of Audio and Video Visualizing
The smart bulbs react based on the high and low audio tones by fluctuating its output light brightness, it fluctuates more with higher audio amplitudes and less with lower audio amplitudes. Researchers observed luminance-profile suffers minor distortions across multiple recordings.
When video-visualization is turned on in the mobile app, the smart bulb reacts to the colors present in the input video stream by changing its output light color to the average RGB composition of the current frame in the video.
The inference attack starts with the adversary recording the observed luminance-profile. To evaluate the audio and video inference and data to exfiltrate research done an experimental setup with an internal and an external observation point.
Covert Data Exfiltration
Researchers present an adversary can actively and covertly exfiltrate private data from within a smart light user’s personal device or network. This attack possible with the smart lights(LIFX) that connected through the hub with lack of permission controls.
Whereas with the Phillips Hue ecosystem with permission controls can be used in the attack only if the malicious application installed on the user’s smartphone.
The infrared spectrum remains undetected to human eyes and it for longer durations and the channel bandwidth be a deciding factor for such type of attacks.
Mitigations for proposed threats
By reducing the light transmittance causes the attacks to perform poorly, the brightness of the bulbs can be reduced to minimize the inference attacks and to prevent the exfiltration attack, strong network rules can be enforced.