Speaking the Local Dialect: Exploiting Differences Between IEEE 802.15.4 Receivers with Commodity Radios for Fingerprinting, Targeted Attacks, and WIDS Evasion

Jenkins, I., Shapiro, R., Bratus, S., Goodspeed, T., Speers, R., Dowd, D.

Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2014-749, March 2014.

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Producing IEEE 802.15.4 PHY-frames reliably accepted by some digital radio receivers, but rejected by others---depending on the receiver chip's make and model---has strong implications for wireless security. Attackers could target specific receivers by crafting "shaped charges," attack frames that appear valid to the intended target and are ignored by all other recipients. By transmitting in the unique, slightly non-compliant "dialect" of the intended receivers, attackers would be able to create entire communication streams invisible to others, including wireless intrusion detection and prevention systems (WIDS/WIPS).

These scenarios are no longer theoretic. We present methods of producing such IEEE 802.15.4 frames with commodity digital radio chips widely used in building inexpensive 802.15.4-conformant devices. Typically, PHY-layer fingerprinting requires software-defined radios that cost orders of magnitude more than the chips they fingerprint; however, our methods do not require a software-defined radio and use the same inexpensive chips.

Knowledge of such differences, and the ability to fingerprint them is crucial for defenders. We investigate new methods of fingerprinting IEEE 802.15.4 devices by exploring techniques to differentiate between multiple 802.15.4-conformant radio-hardware manufacturers and firmware distributions. Further, we point out the implications of these results for WIDS, both with respect to WIDS evasion techniques and countering such evasion.

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