RESEARCH | August 10, 2018

Breaking Extreme Networks WingOS: How to Own Millions of Devices Running on Aircrafts, Government, Smart Cities and More

On Sunday, August 12th at 11am PT, I will give a talk at DEF CON 26 explaining how several critical vulnerabilities were found in the embedded operating system WingOS. The talk is entitled, BreakingExtreme Networks WingOS: How to Own Millions of Devices Running on Aircrafts,Government, Smart Cities and More.” The Wing operating system was originally created by Motorola and nowadays Extreme Networks maintains it. WingOS is running in Motorola, Zebra and Extreme Networks access points and controllers. It is mainly used for WLAN networks.

This research started focusing in one access point widely used by many airlines around the world, which provides Wi-Fi and Internet access to their aircraft’s passengers. After starting to reverse engineer the firmware, I realized that this access point uses the WingOS and this OS is not only used in the aircraft industry, but also in many other industries.

Based on public information, we can see how it is actively used not only by many airlines but also in public places such as the New York City subway, hospitals, hotels, casinos, resorts, mines, smart cities, sea ports, and more. I will share some real-world examples of places where these devices are being used during my talk.

During my talk, besides the introduction of this OS, scenarios and attack surfaces, I will show some examples of critical vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to completely compromise these devices. Some of these vulnerabilities do not require any kind of authentication, meaning that an attacker — just through the Ethernet connection or Wi-Fi connection — could exploit these issues. Once the devices are compromised, obviously the attacker can compromise the communications from the clients connected to this access point or controller and also launch more effective attacks against those clients. Basically, it is the same idea when an attacker has full control of a router where dozens or hundreds of clients are connected, which can be really dangerous and the possibilities of successful attacks to the clients connected and their communications are really high.

In the case of a controller, we had the same impact but it was even greater. Controllers can control dozens or even hundreds of access points. Some of the vulnerabilities affects the controllers as well, so the attacker could get remote code execution at one controller and then compromise all the access points connected to this controller.

Another interesting and obvious fact from the attacker’s perspective is the following example:

Let’s put us in the New York City subway or in the aircraft scenario. We know that normally these vulnerable devices running WingOS are connected to other assets of the internal network that are not normally reachable from the Internet. Let’s say that an attacker is able to exploit one of the vulnerabilities through the Wi-Fi or Ethernet network. Since the attacker now has code execution at the WingOS device, now the attacker can pivot and try to attack these other assets inside the internal network of the New York City subway or at the aircraft scenario. Obviously, we don’t know for sure what is beyond that, but what is clearly obvious is that this is technically possible and clearly this is also a really juicy entry point for attackers that might want to attack other assets in the internal network of that particular scenario.

During the talk, I will show one exploit that chains several vulnerabilities to get code execution using the Wi-Fi connection that a vulnerable access point provides. After that, we will discuss some conclusions about this research. Hopefully, after this, there will be some lessons learned about security of the WingOS so that it security can improve in the future and millions of devices installed out there will be less exposed to attackers that could do some serious damage to several industries/companies.