Microsoft Warns of 25 Critical Vulnerabilities in IoT, Industrial Devices

Azure Defender security team discovers that memory allocation is a systemic problem that can allow threat actors to execute malicious code remotely or cause entire systems to crash.

Security researchers at Microsoft are warning the industry about 25 as-yet undocumented critical memory-allocation vulnerabilities across a number of vendors’ IoT and industrial devices that threat actors could exploit to execute malicious code across a network or cause an entire system to crash.

Dubbing the newly discovered family of vulnerabilities “BadAlloc,” Microsoft’s Section 52—which is the Azure Defender for IoT security research group–said the flaws have the potential to affect a wide range of domains, from consumer and medical IoT devices to industry IoT, operational technology, and industrial control systems, according to a report published online Thursday by the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC).

“Our research shows that memory allocation implementations written throughout the years as part of IoT devices and embedded software have not incorporated proper input validations,” according to the report. “Without these input validations, an attacker could exploit the memory allocation function to perform a heap overflow, resulting in execution of malicious code on a target device.”

Memory allocation is exactly what it sounds like–the basic set of instructions device makers give a device for how to allocate memory. The vulnerabilities stem from the usage of vulnerable memory functions across all the devices, such as malloc, calloc, realloc, memalign, valloc, pvalloc, and more, according to the report.

From what researchers have found, the problem is systemic, so it can exist in various aspects of devices, including real-time operating systems (RTOS), embedded software development kits (SDKs), and C standard library (libc) implementations, they said. And as IoT and OT devices are highly pervasive, “these vulnerabilities, if successfully exploited, represent a significant potential risk for organizations of all kinds,” researchers observed.

On a positive note, Microsoft Section 52 said it has not seen any of the vulnerabilities as yet exploited in the wild. Researchers have disclosed their findings with the vendors whose devices are affected through responsible disclosure led by the MSRC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), leaving vendors now to investigate and patch the vulnerabilities, if appropriate.

A separate advisory by the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency includes a full list of affected devices, which comprise a number of products from Texas Instruments as well as others from ARM, Samsung and Amazon, among other vendors.

Of that list of 25 devices, 15 already have updates. Meanwhile, some vendors do not expect to have updates to fix the problem for various reasons, and others will release fixes at a later date, according to the advisory.

If administrators running networks on which affected devices are present can’t apply patches to fix the problem, the CISA and Microsoft have recommended other mitigations.

The CISA recommends minimizing network exposure for all control system devices and/or systems to ensure that they are not accessible by the internet, which makes them low-hanging fruit for threat actors.

The agency also advised that system administrators practice network segmentation, isolating system networks and remote devices from the business network as well as putting them behind firewalls. If remote access to these devices is required, secure methods should be used, such as VPNs that are updated with the latest security protocols, the CISA said.

Microsoft recommends similar mitigations but also suggested that administrators implement more careful and continuous monitoring of devices on networks “for anomalous or unauthorized behaviors, such as communication with unfamiliar local or remote hosts.”

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