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The best of Black Hat: The consequential, the controversial, the canceled

Taylor Armerding | July 19, 2017
Over the past two decades, the annual Black Hat conference has had its share of controversy. CSO looks back at the most significant talks and demonstrations.

He was unable to achieve his main goal, which was to make the battery catch fire or blow up. That, he acknowledged as a loyal Apple user, was a good thing.

Miller, who has since become much more famous for hacking into the control systems of a Jeep with colleague Chris Valasek, told CNN after his presentation that Apple devices had actually become much more secure in the four years since he began hacking them.


“Cellphone Intercepts with Femtocells” – iSec Partners, 2013

The sign on the door of this session had a “proceed at your own risk” air about it: “Cellular interception demonstration in progress,” it said, adding in the fine print that among the interruptions users of CDMA devices could experience was, “loss of 911 service.”

If that was a bit unnerving, that was the point. Presenters Doug DePerry and Tom Ritter showed how, exploiting a vulnerability they found in the way mobile devices connect to a femtocell (miniature cell tower), they could eavesdrop and record voice calls, intercept incoming SMS and MMS messages, launch a man-in-the-middle attack to view Web sites being accessed, strip SSL from secure pages and even clone mobile devices without physical access to them – all from up to 40 feet away.

Femtocells – network devices offered by Verizon, Sprint and AT&T to boost a cellular signal – are designed to improve reception, but are, “a bad idea,” Ritter said, since phones will automatically connect to the tower with the strongest signal without user interaction or knowledge.

The demonstration was against a Verizon femtocell, and the two said Verizon had patched the vulnerability, but neither would comment on how effective it was.


“Hacking Medical Devices for Fun and Insulin, Breaking the Human SCADA System” – Jay Radcliffe, 2011

The threat from hacked medical devices is something Radcliffe, a security researcher, takes personally. As a type 1 diabetic, he has, as they say, skin in the game – he is connected to an insulin pump and glucose monitor all the time which, in his words, makes him something of a “human SCADA system.”

He told the audience that when he was starting his research into the possibility of hacking into the wireless communication component of the device, he told his curious 5-year-old son, “I want to show that bad people can’t do things to dad.” Of course, what he found was that they could. One of the communication methods, using a USB thumb drive, had no authentication or encryption between the configuration tool and the device. While it had a serial number, that could be compromised through social engineering or brute force.


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