Smart lightbulb

Smart lightbulb and app vulnerability puts your Wi-Fi password at risk

New research highlights another potential danger from IoT devices, with a popular make of smart light bulbs placing your Wi-Fi network password at risk. Researchers from the University of London and Universita di Catania produced a paper explaining the dangers of common IoT products. In this case, how smart bulbs can be compromised to gain access to your home or office network.

If you use the TP-Link Tapo L530 E smart bulb and the TP-Link Tapo app, you will have some smart bulb related reading in your immediate future.

Bleeping Computer reports that no fewer than 10 million app installations exist via Google Play. From the app description:

The Tapo app helps you set up the Tapo smart devices within minutes and puts everything you need at the tip of your fingers

• Control your smart device from anywhere.

• Control the device via voice with Google Home and Amazon Echo.

• Preset Away mode to make it seem like someone is home.

• Set a countdown timer to automatically turn the device on or off.

• Schedule when to turn the device on or off automatically at times.

All fairly standard fare where smart home lighting is concerned. The bulbs can connect to your router, and the bulbs can be controlled via the relevant app. You may well have a similar setup in your own home. In this case however, Italian researchers have shone a light on more insecure issues and practices from smart products which make using them a potentially risky proposition.

Multiple high severity vulnerabilities exist which allow for password retrieval and device manipulation, with four issues in total.

One vulnerability, with a CVSS score of 7.6 out of 10) allows for attackers to retrieve verification keys through brute force, or by decompiling the Tapo app itself. The other high severity flaw, wtih a CVSS of 8.8, is related to incorrect authentication of the bulb, which means the device can be impersonated, allowing for Tapo password theft and device manipulation.

The other two issues, which are not as severe, related to lack of checks of received messages with regard to how old they are and a lack of randomness during encryption.

What is the potential for damage where the “severe” vulnerabilities are concerned? Well, in a worst case scenario someone could potentially swipe your Wi-Fi password via the Tapo app and then have access to all the devices on said network.

Bleeping Computer notes a few wrinkles in this attack plan. The most important of which is that the device would need to be in setup mode in order for the attack to strike gold. While you probably wouldn’t expect many people to have bulbs plugged in but not set up, the attacker can get around this. Namely: With a few clicks of the app, they can deauthenticate your light bulb thus forcing the need for a fresh setup. 

In terms of addressing these flaws, the researchers mention that they made use of TP-Link’s Vulnerability Research Program (VRP) to report all four issues. TP-Link responded that they have started work on fixes for both bulb and app. There is no specific date mentioned for this at time of writing. There are some workarounds suggested to “fix” these issues, but they’re aimed at the manufacturers as opposed to the users.

You can, and should, practice good security when dealing with any product making use of your home or office network. Strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, even turning off products that won’t be in use for a significant period of time.

Where the above TP-Link problems are concerned, users should keep the official website handy for security update notifications and ensure all apps and firmware are up to date whenever possible. You should also do this for all of your other smart appliances: Baby monitors, webcams, security systems, and utility service controls. Smart homes are here to stay, and it’s up to us to ensure we’re not providing easy inroads for attackers to exploit.

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Christopher Boyd

Former Director of Research at FaceTime Security Labs. He has a very particular set of skills. Skills that make him a nightmare for threats like you.