HALE-IoT: HArdening LEgacy Internet-of-Things devices by retrofitting defensive firmware modifications and implants
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Internet-Of-Things (IoT) devices and their firmware are notorious for their lifelong vulnerabilities. As device infection increases, vendors also fail to release patches at a competitive pace. Despite security in IoT being an active area of research, prior work has mainly focused on vulnerability detection and exploitation, threat modelling, and protocol security. However, these methods are ineffective in preventing attacks against legacy and End-Of-Life devices that are already vulnerable. Current research mainly focuses on implementing and demonstrating the potential of malicious modifications. Hardening emerges as an effective solution to provide IoT devices with an additional layer of defense. In this paper, we bridge these gaps through the design of HALE-IoT, a generically applicable systematic approach to HArdening LEgacy IoT non-low-end devices by retrofitting defensive firmware modifications without access to the original source code. HALE-IoT approaches this non-trivial task via binary firmware reversing and modification while being underpinned by a semi-automated toolset that aims to keep cybersecurity of such devices in a hale state. Our focus is on both modern and, especially, legacy or obsolete IoT devices as they become increasingly prevalent. To evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of HALE-IoT, we apply it to a wide range of IoT devices by retrofitting 395 firmware images with defensive implants containing an intrusion prevention system in the form of a Web Application Firewall (for prevention of web-attack vectors), and an HTTPS-proxy (for latest and full end-to-end HTTPS support) using emulation. We also test our approach on four physical devices, where we show that HALE-IoT successfully runs on protected and quite constrained devices with as low as 32MB of RAM and 8MB of storage. Overall, in our evaluation, we achieve good performance and reliability with a remarkably accurate detection and prevention rate for attacks coming from both real CVEs and synthetic exploits.