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ZigBee Wireless Security: A New Age Penetration Tester's Toolkit

Article Description

Penetration testers have been focusing on wireless technologies for over a decade now, and one protocol that can arguably be placed at the top of the list is the 802.15.4 protocol that ZigBee wireless rides on. New tools and techniques are being developed by penetration testers to validate the security and configuration of ZigBee-enabled devices. Brad Bowers takes a closer look at the ZigBee protocol, some of the attacks that have been leveraged against it, and the security tools that penetration testers can use.

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How ZigBee Differs

How ZigBee Differs

The ZigBee protocol differs from traditional 802.11 wireless in many ways, most notably the simplicity, low cost, and elegant function.

ZigBee was designed to provide short–distance wireless solutions in which running wires to transfer data is infeasible or cost prohibitive. ZigBee does not provide the bandwidth and advance error checking provided by its 802.11 big brothers. This stripped-down approach to networking has many advantages including ease of setup, low power consumption, and simple integration into other devices.

Easy Setup

ZigBee devices can be used in lots of different ways, but they have built-in protocol support for both mesh and star-based network topologies. Given some very basic configuration settings, a ZigBee device (node) can be joined to an existing mesh network or be assigned as the controlling device to manage the interaction of other ZigBee nodes.

As you can imagine, there are lots of security attack potential here, but we'll get into that more in a bit.

Low Power

ZigBee requires very little power to function and to maintain its association with other ZigBee devices. Many implementations can run for several years off one set of batteries. The low power consumption of ZigBee devices comes at the cost of bandwidth and effective communication range, however.

Low Bandwidth

ZigBee is definitely not a sports car when it comes to moving large amounts of data. While there are some methods for increasing its max bandwidth, ZigBee generally tops out at 250Kbps. This makes it a poor choice for data-hungry consumer products such as cellphones or video, but superb for short communication bursts or infrequent sensor data transmissions.

Short Range

Another limitation of ZigBee is its relatively short communication range. While the ZigBee specifications state that it can effectively transmit up to 100 meters, most devices are functioning closer to the 10-meter range. The lack of complex data and error checking also plays a contributing factor into the range limitation of ZigBee devices.

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