[LINK] Videoconference systems
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Tue Jan 24 02:02:14 EST 2012
Cameras May Open Up the Board Room to Hackers
By NICOLE PERLROTH www.nytimes.com Published: January 22, 2012 (snip)
"The auto-answer feature is enabled by default (so) that anyone can dial
in and listen and look around a room"
SAN FRANCISCO One afternoon this month, a hacker took a tour of a dozen
conference rooms around the globe via equipment that most every company
has in those rooms; videoconferencing equipment.
With the move of a mouse, he steered a camera around each room,
occasionally zooming in with such precision that he could discern grooves
in the wood and paint flecks on the wall. With such equipment, the hacker
could have easily eavesdropped on privileged attorney-client
conversations or read trade secrets on a report lying on the conference
In this case, the hacker was HD Moore, a chief security officer at
Rapid7, a Boston based company that looks for security holes in computer
systems. His latest find: videoconferencing equipment is often left
vulnerable to hackers.
Businesses collectively spend billions of dollars each year beefing up
security on their computer systems and employee laptops. But rarely do
they give much thought to the ease with which anyone can penetrate a
videoconference room where their most guarded trade secrets are openly
Mr. Moore has found it easy to get into several top venture capital and
law firms, pharmaceutical and oil companies and courtrooms across the
country. He even found a path into the Goldman Sachs boardroom. The
entry bar has fallen to the floor, said Mike Tuchen, chief executive of
Rapid7. These are literally some of the worlds most important
boardrooms this is where their most critical meetings take place and
there could be silent attendees in all of them.
Ten years ago, videoconferencing systems were complicated and erratic,
and ran on expensive, closed high-speed phone lines. Over the last
decade, videoconferencing like everything else migrated to the
Now, most businesses use Internet protocol videoconferencing to connect
with colleagues and customers. Most of these new systems were designed
with visual and audio clarity not security in mind.
The most popular units, sold by Polycom and Cisco, can cost as much as
$25,000 and feature encryption, high-definition video capture, and audio
that can pick up the sound of a door opening 300 feet away. But
administrators are setting them up outside the firewall and are
configuring them with a false sense of security that hackers can use
Whether real hackers are exploiting this vulnerability is unknown; no
company has announced that it has been hacked. (Nor would one, and most
would never know in any case.) But with videoconference systems so
ubiquitous, they make for an easy target.
It certainly would not be the first time hackers had exploited holes in
office hardware. After a security breach at the United States Chamber of
Commerce last year, the Chamber discovered that its office printer, and
even a thermostat in a Chamber-owned apartment, had been communicating
with an Internet address in China.
But with videoconferencing, companies have seemingly gone out of their
way to make themselves vulnerable.
New systems are outfitted with a feature that automatically accepts
inbound calls so users do not have to press an accept button every time
someone dials into their videoconference. The effect is that anyone can
dial in and look around a room, and the only sign of their presence is a
tiny light on a console unit, or the silent swing of a video camera.
Two months ago, Mr. Moore wrote a computer program that scanned the
Internet for videoconference systems that were outside the firewall and
configured to automatically answer calls. In less than two hours, he had
scanned 3 percent of the Internet.
In that sliver, he discovered 5,000 wide-open conference rooms at law
firms, pharmaceutical companies, oil refineries, universities and medical
centers. He stumbled into a lawyer-inmate meeting room at a prison, an
operating room at a university medical center, and a venture capital
pitch meeting where a companys financials were being projected on a
Among the vendors that popped up in Mr. Moores scan were Polycom, Cisco,
LifeSize, Sony and others. Of those, Polycom which leads the
videoconferencing market in units sold was the only manufacturer that
ships its equipment from its low-end ViewStation models to its high-end
HDX products with the auto-answer feature enabled by default.
In an e-mail, Shawn Dainas, a Polycom spokesman, said the auto-answer
feature had several safety elements built in that could be activated by a
customer, including password protections, auto-mute and camera control
lockup, adding that Polycom also offered a camera lens cover. He said
the security levels have been designed to make it easy for our customers
to enable security that is appropriate to their business.
Of the Polycom videoconference systems that popped up in Mr. Moores
scan, none blocked control of the camera, asked for a password or muted
Many Polycom systems are sold, installed and maintained without any
level of access security, with auto-answer enabled by default, Mr. Moore
says. It boils down to whether organizations are aware of the risk, and
our research indicates that many, even well-heeled venture capital firms,
were not aware and do not implement even the most basic of security
Mr. Tuchen of Rapid7 said that as a short cut, businesses put their
videoconference systems outside the firewall, allowing them to receive
calls from other companies without having to do any complex network
configuration. The safer way to receive calls from other companies, Mr.
Tuchen said, is to install a gatekeeper that securely connects calls
from outside the firewall. But, this process is complex to configure
properly, he said, and is often skipped.
In some cases, Mr. Moore discovered he could leap from one open system
into its address book and dial into the conference rooms of other
companies, even those companies that put their system behind the
That was the case with Goldman Sachs. The banks boardroom did not show
up in Mr. Moores initial scan but an entry labeled Goldman Sachs Board
Room popped up in the directory of a law firm that Goldman Sachs
videoconferences with. Mr. Moore did not disclose the name of the law
firm and said that because he was afraid of crossing a line, he did not
dial into Goldman Sachs.
Said Mr. Tuchen, Any reasonably computer literate 6-year-old can try
this at home.
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