ZigBee-sniffing drone used to map online Internet of Things

Pierluigi Paganini August 09, 2015

A group of researchers launched an aerial security scanning project relying on ZigBee-sniffing drone to map online Internet of Things.

Drones are powerful machines and security experts are imagining day by day new usage scenarios. A group of security experts (Paul West Jauregui, Richard McPherson, Dallas Kaman, and Nishil Shaw, partnered with Chris Eyhorn) are exploiting a ZigBee-sniffing drone to map online Internet of Things devices to build a searchable archive.

A team of researchers at the Praetorian firm has started a project to analyze the security of internet-of-things devices using the popular ZigBee communications protocol.

drone internet of things

The goal of the researchers is to build a SHODAN-like search engine specialized for the internet of things devices, highlighting their security vulnerabilities.

“At its core, this project is driven by exploration,” explained the researchers. “Where are these things? Who made them? What do they do? Are they secure? These are some of the questions we hope to answer.” “The first step of our exploration involves locating and fingerprinting ZigBee-enabled smart devices and networks. We’re starting local and expanding from here. It’s a big world to explore and billions of things to discover.”

The experts published on the official page of the project a real-time tracker that allows to see where is flying the drone.

The experts have already uncovered more than 1600 unique internet of things devices, 453 of them are made by Sony, and 110 by Philips.

Internet of Things drone map

The experts are analyzing for each device security settings, manufacturer ID, channels, and other attributes. The researchers want to extend the use of drones to other cities and include data collected in their archive. For this reason they are planning to release the open-source blueprints for the project to allow another team of researchers to contribute to the initiative.

The drone is able to log the locations of Internet of Things devices within a 100-meter range.

“ZigBee is buzzing all around us, everywhere, everyday. In order to listen in on conversations taking place between machines, we’ve developed an autonomous, hand-held device that speaks the ZigBee language. It helps us humans better understand the conversations going on around us—a translator of sorts. The device is equipped with several ZigBee radios for communicating with the devices around it and an integrated GPS to triangulate the location of each device. It’s self-powered, weighs about 250g, and has software that makes it fully autonomous. While in operation, the device captures and logs the locations of all smart devices it finds within range (approximately 30-100 meters). Today, it can be held in your hand while taking a stroll around town or it can sit in your car while driving. Soon it will take flight on a drone.” the researchers explain on the web site of the project.

The researcher used a six rotor drone equipped with ZigBee radios for communicating with Internet of Things devices and a GPS device to track their position.

“Very soon, we’ll be releasing a full how-to build guide for our device, along with a release of the code the drives it, so other passionate engineers and hackers interested in ZigBee can start listening in to the machines around them,” the team says.

Stay tuned!

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – drone, Internet of Things)

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