EDITORIAL | February 13, 2020

Do You Blindly Trust LoRaWAN Networks for IoT?

Do you blindly trust that your IoT devices are being secured by the encryption methods employed by LoRaWAN? If so, you’re not alone. Long Range Wide Area Networking (LoRaWAN) is a protocol designed to allow low-power devices to communicate with Internet-connected applications over long-range wireless connections. It’s being adopted by major organizations across the world because of its promising capabilities. For example, a single gateway (antenna) can cover an entire city, hundreds of square miles.

With more than 100 million LoRaWAN-connected devices in use across the globe, many cellular carriers are racing to join in by offering LoRa nationwide coverage as a service for a low price: on average, a tenth of LTE-based services. However, neither equipment vendors nor service providers nor the end users who are implementing the technology are paying attention to security pitfalls, and are instead spreading a false sense of security.

Our New Research

In exploring the LoRaWAN protocol, we found major cyber security problems in the adoption of this technology. LoRaWAN is advertised as having “built-in encryption,” which may lead users to believe it is secure by default. When talking about the networks that are used across the globe to transmit data to and from IoT devices in smart cities, industrial settings, smart homes, smart utilities, vehicles, and healthcare, we can’t afford to blindly trust LoRaWAN and ignore cyber security. Last week, IOActive presented these LoRaWAN cyber security problems at The Things Conference in Amsterdam, and it grabbed the attention and interest of conference attendees.

The Root of the Risk

The root of the risk lies in the keys used for encrypting communications between devices, gateways, and network servers, which are often poorly protected and easily obtainable. Basically the keys are everywhere, making encryption almost useless. This leaves networks vulnerable to malicious hackers who could compromise the confidentiality and integrity of the data flowing to and from connected devices.

For example, if malicious hackers want to launch a Denial of Service attack, once they have the encryption keys, they can access the network and disrupt communications between connected devices and the network server, meaning companies can’t receive any data.

Alternatively, attackers could intercept communications and replace real sensor or meter readings with false data. Hackers could exploit this to damage industrial equipment, potentially halting operations and putting company infrastructure at risk.

These are just two examples of how attackers can leverage LoRaWAN to execute malicious attacks, but the list goes on. From preventing utility firms from taking smart meter readings, to stopping logistics companies from tracking vehicles, to blocking industrial control processes from receiving sensor readings, if we unwittingly trust flawed technology, we will pay the price.

What Now?

Currently there isn’t a way for an organization to know if a LoRaWAN implementation is or has been hacked or if an encryption key has been compromised. Furthermore, there are no tools to audit/penetration test/hack LoRaWAN implementations. Standing in the gap, IOActive has released a set of useful tools, the LoRaWAN Auditing Framework, which allows organizations to audit and penetration test their infrastructure, detect possible attacks, and eliminate or reduce the impact of an attack. Our goal is to ensure LoRaWAN is deployed securely.


IOActive LoRaWAN Networks Susceptible to Hacking: Common Cyber Security Problems, How to Detect and Prevent Them (whitepaper)
IOActive LoRaWAN Auditing Framework tools