Philips Hue, AES-CCM, and more!

This is just a quick blog post to update you on some rather interesting research that will be coming out led by Eyal Ronen. At Black Hat USA 2016 I did some teardown of the Philips Hue system, and described the possibility of a lightbulb worm.

Check this landing page which now has a draft PDF of what that became. This draft paper details how you can (1) recover the encryption keys used to encrypt the firmware updates, and thus encrypt/sign your own images, and (2) details a bug specific to a version of a range-checking protocol which allows reflashing of bulbs over longer distances. The end result is this basically solves all the roadblocks I had identified as stopping the lighbulb worm from actually happening [NB: the distance-check bug has been FIXED already in firmware updates which solves this specific spreading vector].

To me the most interesting part is a demonstration of side-channel power analysis being useful for breaking a rather good encrypted bootloader. To be clear the Philips Hue does a great job of implementing a bootloader on an IoT device… it’s one of the better I’ve seen, especially considering we are talking about a lightbulb. But it’s very very difficult to hide from side-channel power analysis and other “hands on” embedded hardware attacks, instead it’s better (but more expensive logistically) to push the solutions to the higher-level architecture. If each bulb had a unique encryption key (maybe derived from the MAC address using an algorithm on a secure server if you don’t want to store all those keys) it would provide an excellent layer of defense.

I’m working on making a description of the AES-CCM attack, which will be posted to the wiki page.


Q: What does that mean to someone using Hue, is it safe?

A: Philips released a OTA update to fix the bug that allows spreading over longer distances (October 3rd update). This is a great example of a fast response by a company who takes this stuff seriously. Basically – if I was choosing a smart light platform, I’d probably use Hue (I have a few of them in my house too).


Q: What’s power analysis?

A: This isn’t a FAQ type answer – but you can see an intro video I made. Basically we use tiny variations in power consumption of a device as it’s running to determine information about secrets held within the device.


Q: What if I want more information?

A: Please contact Eyal for more details, if you want to discuss specific questions, etc. Note the Philips-specific details (such as scripts, keys, etc) will never be released, please don’t ask for them.


Q: Does a worm exist?

A: NO. It would be extremely reckless to make such a worm, as it would be VERY hard to contain the spread should you have a bunch of Hue devices around you. Instead that research paper demo’d all the pieces, but stopped short of putting them together (we wouldn’t want a criticality accident).

Philips Hue – R.E. Whitepaper from Black Hat 2016

At Black Hat 2016 I presented on some reverse engineering of the Philips Hue (also see my other post about getting root on it, which was part of that presentation).

If you were at the talk, you would have also seen mention that you’ll want to keep your eyes out for future publications by Eyal Ronen. You can see his website for more research related to the Hue as well, and follow him on twitter @eyalr0. He’s been doing some work in parallel that I think will do more than just R.E. the bulbs (as I did), and actually bring some of my `possible’ attacks to become real proof-of-concepts.

Summary of the work (to make it clear):

  • I did NOT make a worm. The title was a question someone asked me, and the talk is about the security of the Hue.
  • The mention of a possible ‘Long Range Take Over’ was new/unreleased research by Eyal Ronen – do not credit me with that. It’s part of a larger research publication that will get released at some point.
  • Philips did a rather good job (all things considered). The only trade-off I really call out is reuse of encryption keys across all FW updates for all devices, which is basically what makes a theoretical worm possible.
  • Rooting the Hue (earlier post) is a local attack and very nice for hardware hackers. There are unique root passwords which is a great security step, so far I haven’t found flaws in the Hue Bridge 2.0 besides that.
  • There’s a lot of “interesting vectors” which the talk goes over. Given enough time some of them may give, but it’s a question of who is motivated enough to spend a lot of time on them.

You can get the full slides here too:

Philips Hue Reverse Engineering (BH Talk ‘A Lightbulb Worm?’) Slides [PDF, 8MB]

Here’s a copy of the very large whitepaper I wrote too:

Philips Hue Reverse Engineering (BH Talk ‘A Lightbulb Worm?’) Whitepaper [PDF, 5MB]

This whitepaper is a bit of a ‘data dump’ and ~48 pages of random stuff. But useful if you are interested in pushing this further!

Getting Root on Philips Hue Bridge 2.0

This post will briefly show you how to get a root console on the new Philips Hue Bridges (the square ones). It’s rather easy, the only special tools you require are a USB-Serial cable & a torx screwdriver.


There’s a video with full details, this post is just the specifics if you don’t want a very boring walk-through:

  1. For the serial cable (a standard 3.3V type one, DO NOT use a 5V cable), there is a 6-pin header along the bottom. Pin ‘1’ has a square footprint, and counting from pin 1 the connections are:
    Pin 1 = GND
    Pin 4 = RX In (connect to TX Out of your serial cable)
    Pin 5 = TX Out (connect to RX in of your serial cable).


  2. The bottom left-corner of the 2-row header is GND. You’ll have to short that with a wire to the following test point:

    This test-point is shorted to GND with a paper-clip or wire. Click image for full-sized to see in better detail.
  3. To get the system working, check you are getting boot messages. Now, restart the system and after you get a bit of output, short the pin. You might see some output like this:
    U-Boot 1.1.4 (Sep  8 2015 - 04:08:21)
    bsb002 - Honey Bee 2.0DRAM:  
    Honey Bee 2.0
    ath_ddr_initial_config(195): (16bit) ddr2 init
    tap = 0x00000003
    Tap (low, high) = (0x8, 0x22)
    Tap values = (0x15, 0x15, 0x15, 0x15)
    64 MB
    Top of RAM usable for U-Boot at: 84000000
    Reserving 214k for U-Boot at: 83fc8000
    Reserving 192k for malloc() at: 83f98000
    Reserving 44 Bytes for Board Info at: 83f97fd4
    Reserving 36 Bytes for Global Data at: 83f97fb0
    Reserving 128k for boot params() at: 83f77fb0
    Stack Pointer at: 83f77f98
    Now running in RAM - U-Boot at: 83fc8000
    Flash Manuf Id 0xc8, DeviceId0 0x40, DeviceId1 0x13
    flash size 0MB, sector count = 8
    Flash: 512 kB
    *** Warning *** : PCIe WLAN Module not found !!!
    In:    serial
    Out:   serial
    Err:   serial
    Net:   ath_gmac_enet_initialize...
    Fetching MAC Address from 0x83febe80
    Fetching MAC Address from 0x83febe80
    ath_gmac_enet_initialize: reset mask:c02200 
    Scorpion ---->S27 PHY*
    S27 reg init
    : cfg1 0x800c0000 cfg2 0x7114
    eth0: 00:03:7f:11:20:ce
    athrs27_phy_setup ATHR_PHY_CONTROL 4 :1000
    athrs27_phy_setup ATHR_PHY_SPEC_STAUS 4 :10

    Which will then fall back to a prompt:


    Good news! We can now get everything working for you. You can print the existing variables if you wish:

    ath> printenv
  4. Set a boot delay such we can enter the menu without the boot hack:
    setenv bootdelay 3

    Check it works with

    printenv bootdelay

    and confirm you get a line like this:


    Finally, save the setting with:


    You can now reset the system (use the ‘reset’ command), and confirm there is a count-down that gives you time to hit “enter” and get this prompt again.

  5. Now let’s fix the root password. Before doing this, I suggest you keep a copy of the old value:
    printenv security

    This would let you restore things back to default. Then the following will set the root password to ‘toor’:

    setenv security '$1$3vGNd7Q3$ISqFeo1VkmQV6nyriUV0V/'

    You may have to copy this into notepad first to ensure it all fits on one line! The quotes are critical here. Again check it works with printenv, then type saveenv to store things to disk.

    If you want your own password, simply use the ‘mkpasswd’ command in Linux to generate an appropriate string.

    NOTE: My original instructions (and the video) had a different ‘setenv’ command, which used SHA1 to hash the password. It turns out this stops ssh from working, so instead as suggested in the comments you can use the above MD5 hash which should work better. For posterity my original instructions were:

    setenv security '$5$wbgtEC1iF$ugIfQUoE7SNg4mplDI/7xdfLC7jXoMAkupeMsm10hY9'
  6. Once again reset the board – assuming you used saveenv, that root password will be used by the system now. You should be able to log in with root/toor!
  7. Once you are in, there’s a few changes you’ll want to make. We’ll edit the file /etc/rc.local:
    # vi /etc/rc.local

    And add the following:

    iptables -I INPUT -p tcp --dport 23 --syn -j ACCEPT

    This will open the telnet port & start the daemon on boot. Write the file and quit with :wq. You may also want to add the /etc/rc.local to the /etc/sysupgrade.conf file to avoid it being overwritten in the future.

    See the comments below – someone found a way to get ‘dropbear’ to allow root login too. It’s great as SSH is much nicer to work with than telnet! This requires a different password hash than my original instructions/video.

  8. Try using telnet to connect now. You can find the IP of the bridge using ifconfig, but you can also get it through the Hue app.You can also try using “Philips-hue.local”, which I’d first check via ping to see if it resolves:
    ping Philips-hue.local
  9. I’ve done the 25-July-2016 update without issue too (after first rooting the hub with an earlier version). I’ll continue to update this as updates happen.

BONUS – How did I figure this out?

The “bomb out to uboot prompt” is a known bug. Once in the prompt, I could edit the bootarg command with this:

setenv std_bootargs 'board=BSB002 console=ttyS0,115200 ubi.mtd=overlay rootfs=/dev/mtdblock:rootfs rootfstype=squashfs noinitrd init=/bin/sh';

This gives me a shell which doesn’t require a login. But many things are broken/disabled in this mode. It was however enough to find that there is another script that runs on startup which uses the uboot env variable, and copies it into the shadow file for the root password.

With this knowledge it’s easy to use mkpasswd to make an appropriate shadow file entry. Easy!

I also checked with two different Hue Bridge v2.0 devices. They contained different root passwords (at least different salts). I’ve been told the root passwords are indeed unique per device, which is a good step to stop someone from attacking your virgin Philips Hue 2.0 bridge.

As an interesting note – other people have also discovered this independently of me. Between writing this post & actually linking it from anywhere (i.e., so you could actually find it) pepe2k figured out the same thing on a forum post.

As well someone else did this same “overwrite root” attack already, but had used an external programmer to write the FLASH memory chip:

So it’s worth considering that many devices may be broken even if there isn’t some fancy Black Hat talk or otherwise. Most of the attacks (such as this one) are fairly well-known and pretty basic.

UPDATE: At DEFCON 24, I guess someone gave this type of attack a marketable name. You can see the idea called pin2pwn here.