Your Firmware Has Arrived: A Study of Firmware Update Vulnerabilities


Yuhao Wu, Jinwen Wang, Yujie Wang, Shixuan Zhai, and Zihan Li, Washington University in St. Louis; Yi He, Tsinghua University; Kun Sun, George Mason University; Qi Li, Tsinghua University; Ning Zhang, Washington University in St. Louis


Embedded devices are increasingly ubiquitous in our society. Firmware updates are one of the primary mechanisms to mitigate vulnerabilities in embedded systems. However, the firmware update procedure also introduces new attack surfaces, particularly through vulnerable firmware verification procedures. Unlike memory corruption bugs, numerous vulnerabilities in firmware updates stem from incomplete or incorrect verification steps, to which existing firmware analysis methods are not applicable. To bridge this gap, we propose ChkUp, an approach to Check for firmware Update vulnerabilities. ChkUp can resolve the program execution paths during firmware updates using cross-language inter-process control flow analysis and program slicing. With these paths, ChkUp locates firmware verification procedures, examining and validating their vulnerabilities. We implemented ChkUp and conducted a comprehensive analysis on 12,000 firmware images. Then, we validated the alerts in 150 firmware images from 33 device families, leading to the discovery of both zero-day and n-day vulnerabilities. Our findings were disclosed responsibly, resulting in the assignment of 25 CVE IDs and one PSV ID at the time of writing.

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