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Can Embedded Systems be Hacked in 2023?

can embedded systems be hacked

Embedded systems are often found embedded within larger industrial, communications, or networking systems, which are often difficult for hackers to access.

Embedded systems are at risk from new attacks that involve copying your designs, stealing your intellectual property, or even using your embedded system to gain access to confidential information from your company or your customers.

This complacency has left these systems open to attack, and we need to be more vigilant in protecting them. 

Yes, they can be hacked. Embedded systems are computer systems that are embedded within other systems, such as aircraft, cars, or medical devices.

They are often designed to be more secure than traditional computer systems, but they can still be compromised. Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in the system to gain access to the data or to control the system. 

There have been a lot of cyber attacks lately, and the government has created new agencies to fight them. These agencies warn us about the potential damage that can be done if we don’t protect our computers and networks.

What is an Embedded System?

An embedded system is a computer system that is built within another device, such as a mobile phone or a laptop. These systems are designed for a specific task, and they are different from general-purpose computers.

For example, a laptop may have systems that control how it performs, but it is not an embedded system itself because it can also do other things.

Embedded systems consist of a CPU, memory, and peripheral devices. Depending on the system’s purpose, different combinations of devices are used.

An embedded system is controlled by a single integrated software program that governs the activities of the devices it is installed on. This software can be accessed through a user interface, but some systems may be less accessible to users.

Here are Common Attacks on Embedded Systems

The three types of attacks on embedded systems are Software-based attacks, Network-based attacks, and Side-channel attacks. What are the key characteristics of these types of attacks? What are some possible countermeasures?

Software-based attacks

Software-based attacks target the computer that is running the software that manages the devices. If a hacker can break into this software, they can access the data or control the device.

Hackers often search for security vulnerabilities in software design and code in order to exploit them and take advantage of the system. This is a common attack method, as hackers don’t need specific knowledge or skills in order to carry out an attack.

The most widespread software-based attacks involve:

  • Malware
  • Brute-forcing access
  • Overflowing the memory barrier
  • Exploiting web application safety vulnerabilities

Malicious software can attack embedded systems in the same way as on any other computer. A hacker might try to get access to the data stored on the system, control it, or even damage it.

To prevent such attacks, you can implement one of the following safeguards:

To prevent the installation of malware on your computer, the developer creates a signature for any new piece of malware that is detected. This signature is then added to the software’s embedded system firmware, which means that the system will not run the malware if it is detected.

To keep your computer safe, you can use a whitelist protection tool that creates a specific signature for all trusted software sources. This means that only software with the proper signature can run on your computer.

Network-based attacks

An attack can be performed on a network by exploiting vulnerabilities in the infrastructure. This can be done remotely, allowing the hacker to listen in on and possibly modify traffic transmitted by the embedded system.

Let’s take look at the general network-based attacks:

  • Man in the middle (MITM)

A MITM attack is a type of attack where hackers change the connection parameters of two devices in order to place a third one between them.

If they can obtain or alter the cryptographic keys used by both devices, they can eavesdrop on the data being transmitted between them without causing any disruption to the network.

To prevent a MITM attack, you can encrypt your data and transmit it using IPsec, which will protect your key and data.

  • Domain name system (DNS) poisoning

DNS poisoning is a technique used by hackers that forces a local DNS server to alter its records in a way that is beneficial to the hacker. DNS servers are responsible for translating human-memorable domain names into corresponding IP addresses.

By manipulating DNS servers and poisoning their caches, hackers can redirect traffic from a targeted website to any other address.

The DNS Security Extensions protocol protects DNS servers from being poisoned by digitally signing any data published or transmitted by the DNS.

  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS)

A DDoS attack is a type of cyberattack that makes a system unavailable by flooding it with requests from numerous sources.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to combating DDoS attacks, but adding a firewall and traffic analysis, and filtering algorithms to your embedded software can help protect your system.

  • Session hijacking

Session hijacking is a type of attack in which a hacker listens to embedded system traffic in order to steal authentication credentials. There are various ways to execute this type of attack, including fixing a user’s session identifier, stealing a session cache, and more.

To protect yourself from this kind of attack, you can encrypt your credentials and any data that may contain them, change your credentials regularly, and delete any session-related data when your session is over.

  • Signal jamming

Signal jamming is a technique used by hackers to disrupt wireless networks. This can interfere with any communication on the channel, start working when a targeted device transmits data, or be activated upon detection of specific packets. This can make an embedded system unavailable.

To prevent signal jamming, you’ll need to deploy a suitable anti-jamming mechanism. This protection will also help protect your embedded system from unintentional jamming caused by other devices.

Side-channel attacks

Side-channel attacks are attacks that use security weaknesses in embedded systems. They are hard to carry out and expensive, as they require knowledge of the hardware design and physical access to the target system.

Side-channel attacks can be used to steal information like user passwords or data secrets.

The hackers accessed the internal workings of a system and connected devices, stole cryptographic keys, or even took control of the system.

The most common side-channel attacks are listed below

  • Power analysis

A power analysis attack involves trying to figure out what is being processed on an embedded system by looking at how much power it is using.

This information depends on the data that is being processed, so hackers could see when a system is processing important information and then steal it.

To prevent this from happening, use data masking techniques to make sure that sensitive information looks like unimportant data.

  • Timing attacks

Timing attacks are ways to learn information about an embedded system by watching how its operations happen. These attacks require access to the system and often require someone with knowledge of the system’s internals.

To avoid timing attacks, you can use randomizers to shuffle activities in the idle cycle. This will make it harder for attackers to determine the timing of your system.

  • Electromagnetic analysis

Electromagnetic analysis is a way for hackers to see inside the software on a device without having to hack it.

This can be helpful for figuring out what the device is doing, and sometimes even extracting secret keys. It can take a lot of time and effort to do this, so it’s not always easy.

How To Protect Embedded System

There are several ways to protect your embedded system from people who might try to hack or modify it. One way is to make sure the hardware is secure so that people can’t tamper with it or figure out how it works.

Another way is to add detection circuitry so that the system can tell when someone is trying to do something to it without your permission.

To protect your device from being hacked, it’s important to take steps to secure it. However, this is no easy task, and there is always a risk of being hacked. But, using tools that are available, you can reduce the chances of being attacked.

Kevin James

Kevin James

I'm Kevin James, and I'm passionate about writing on Security and cybersecurity topics. Here, I'd like to share a bit more about myself. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity from Utica College, New York, which has been the foundation of my career in cybersecurity. As a writer, I have the privilege of sharing my insights and knowledge on a wide range of cybersecurity topics. You'll find my articles here at, covering the latest trends, threats, and solutions in the field.