OWASP Embedded Application Security
- Embedded Best Practices
- Embedded Top 10 Best Practices
- Embedded Device Firmware Analysis Tools
OWASP Embedded Application Security Project
Every year the prevalent use of embedded software within enterprise and consumer devices continues to rise exponentially. With widespread publicity of the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more devices are becoming network connected evidencing how essential it is to create secure coding guidelines for embedded software. Embedded Application Security is often not a high priority for embedded developers when they are producing devices such as routers, managed switches, medical devices, Industrial Control Systems (ICS), VoIP phones, IoT devices, and ATM Kiosks due to other challenges outside of development. Other challenges developers face may include, but are not limited to, the Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) supply chain, limited memory, a small stack, and the challenge of pushing firmware updates securely to an endpoint. The goals of this project are to create a list of best practices, provide practical guidance to embedded developers, and to draw on the existing OWASP resources that can bring application security expertise to the embedded world. It is important to note, each of the items and guidance points listed below are longstanding within software security. This document purely tailors issues that OWASP has previously provided guidance upon (e.g. OWASP Top 10, Mobile Top 10, etc.) to the embedded community. Given the prevalence of Linux kernels utilized within embedded devices, all code examples are geared towards a POSIX environment but the principles are designed to be platform agnostic.
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Please click here for the live version of the document Click here to download the PDF of Version 1 released in March 2017
Version 2 scheduled for Fall 2018
E1 – Buffer and Stack Overflow Protection
Prevent the use of known dangerous functions and APIs in effort to protect against memory-corruption vulnerabilities within firmware. (e.g. Use of unsafe C functions - strcat, strcpy, sprintf, scanf) Memory-corruption vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflows, can consist of overflowing the stack (Stack overflow) or overflowing the heap (Heap overflow). For simplicity purposes, this document does not distinguish between these two types of vulnerabilities. In the event a buffer overflow has been detected and exploited by an attacker, the instruction pointer register is overwritten to execute the arbitrary malicious code provided by the attacker.
E2 – Injection Prevention
E3 – Firmware Updates and Cryptographic Signatures
Ensure robust update mechanisms utilize cryptographically signed firmware images upon download and when applicable, for updating functions pertaining to third party software. Cryptographic signature allows for verification that files have not been modified or otherwise tampered with since the developer created and signed them. The signing and verification process uses public-key cryptography and it is difficult to forge a digital signature (e.g. PGP signature) without first gaining access to the private key. In the event a private key is compromised, developers of the software must revoke the compromised key and will need to re-sign all previous firmware releases with the new key.
E4 – Securing Sensitive Information
Do not hardcode secrets such as passwords, usernames, tokens, private keys or similar variants into firmware release images. This also includes the storage of sensitive data that is written to disk. If hardware security element (SE) or Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is available, it is recommended to utilize such features for storing sensitive data. Otherwise, use of strong cryptography should be evaluated to protect the data. If possible, all sensitive data in clear-text should be ephemeral by nature and reside in a volatile memory only.
E5 – Identity Management
User accounts within an embedded device should not be static in nature. Features that allow separation of user accounts for internal web management, internal console access, as well as remote web management and remote console access should be available to prevent automated malicious attacks.
E6 – Embedded Framework and C-Based Hardening
Limit BusyBox, embedded frameworks, and toolchains to only those libraries and functions being used when configuring firmware builds. Embedded Linux build systems such as Buildroot, Yocto and others typically perform this task. Removal of known insecure libraries and protocols such as Telnet not only minimize attack entry points in firmware builds, but also provide a secure-by-design approach to building software in efforts to thwart potential security threats.
E7 – Usage of Debug Code and Interfaces
It is important to ensure all unnecessary pre-production build code, as well as dead and unused code, has been removed prior to firmware release to all market segments. This includes but is not limited to potential backdoor code and root privilege accounts that may have been left by parties such as Original Design Manufacturers (ODM) and Third-Party contractors. Typically this falls in scope for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to perform via reverse engineering of binaries. This should also require ODMs to sign Master Service Agreements (MSA) insuring that either no backdoor code is included and that all code has been reviewed for software security vulnerabilities holding all Third-Party developers accountable for devices that are mass deployed into the market.
E8 – Transport Layer Security
Ensure all methods of communication are utilizing industry standard encryption configurations for TLS. The use of TLS ensures that all data remains confidential and untampered with while in transit. Utilize free certificate authority services such as Let’s Encrypt if the embedded device utilizes domain names.
E9 – Data collection Usage and Storage - Privacy
It is critical to limit the collection, storage, and sharing of both personally identifiable information (PII) as well as sensitive personal information (SPI). Leaked information such as Social Security Numbers can lead to customers being compromised which could have legal repercussions for manufacturers. If information of this nature must be gathered, it is important to follow the concepts of Privacy-by-Design.
E10 – Third Party Code and Components
Following setup of the toolchain, it is important to ensure that the kernel, software packages, and third party libraries are updated to protect against publicly known vulnerabilities. Software such as Rompager or embedded build tools such as Buildroot should be checked against vulnerability databases as well as their ChangeLogs to determine when and if an update is needed. It is important to note this process should be tested by developers and/or QA teams prior to release builds as updates to embedded systems can cause issues with the operations of those systems. Embedded projects should maintain a “Bill of Materials” of the third party and open source software included in its firmware images. This Bill of Materials should be checked to confirm that none of the third party software included has any unpatched vulnerabilities. Up to date vulnerability information may be found through the National Vulnerability Database or Open Hub.
- Angr - 
- Firmadyne 
- Firmwalker 
- Firmware Analysis Toolkit
- Binary Analysis 
- Flaw Finder 
- IDA Pro (supports ARM / MIPS)
- Radare2 
- Binwalk 
- Firmware-mod-toolkit 
- Capstone framework 
- Shikra 
- JTagulator 
- UART cables
- JTAG Adapters (JLINK)
- CPLDs (in lieu of FPGAs)
- Multimeter (Ammeter, Voltmeter, etc)
- Logic Analyzers for SPI 
- GreatFET 
- Firmware Analysis and Comparison Tool
- Firmware Analysis Toolkit
Introductory Embedded Section
- Expand on what embedded firmware is (8,16,32 bit, minimal hardware resources, list embedded use cases and industries)
- Describe types of architectures (MIPS, ARM, PowerPC, x86 etc.)
- Describe types of firmware and operating systems
- Layout of firmware for embedded linux, RTOS, and Embedded Window
Expand on embedded best practices
- Secure boot recommendations
- Create examples of software bill of materials (BOM)
- Additional example programming language command injection system calls or APIs
- Break out subsections for each of the platforms with contextual guidance and oconfigurations
- Expand on hardening for:
- Embedded Linux
- RTOS (QNX/MQX)
- Best practices/considerations for PKI in embedded systems
- Create example embedded application security requirements for new products
- Integrate with ASVS or create an EASVS (Embedded Application Security Verification Standard)
- Integrate with the IoT project
Join the mailing list, slack channel and contact the Project leaders if you feel you can contribute.
You do not have to be a security expert in order to contribute!
Some of the ways you can help:
- Technical editing
- Graphic design
- Code snippets in your favorite language
- Translate guidance material
Contact the project leaders for ways to get involved.