Red Team in a Box for Embedded and Non-IP Devices
Navy SBIR 2018.2 - Topic N182-131
ONR - Ms. Lore-Anne Ponirakis -
Opens: May 22, 2018 - Closes: June 20, 2018 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Red Team in a Box for Embedded and Non-IP Devices


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Electronics, Ground/Sea Vehicles

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: Resilient Hull/Infrastructure, Mechanical, Electrical Security (RHIMES) FNC

OBJECTIVE: Develop a tool to overcome the limitation of human red team resources for conducting vulnerability assessments on Navy systems, in particular, cyber-physical systems. In this context, a red team is comprised of a number of human hackers that attempt to infiltrate a computer system. The aforementioned limitation stems from the scarcity of these hackers relative to the Navy’s need for vulnerability testing to develop safeguards. The Navy is soliciting research and development (R&D) proposals for constructing a “Red Team in a Box” specifically suited to embedded devices and cyber-physical devices that may not be connected to any internet protocol (IP) network. This would be a portable appliance that could connect to various cyber-physical system interfaces and utilize such connections to assess the device for potential unknown vulnerabilities by applying software tools developed by a red team. It would be used by non-expert Sailors or Marines to identify vulnerabilities and generate a report.

DESCRIPTION: The Navy depends on a vast array of cyber-physical systems to operate safely and to maintain integrity in the face of an uncertain cyber environment. Many systems operate in harsh environments at sea, undersea, and in the air. In addition, these systems are not traditional IP-connected devices and their cyber security postures are not as well understood. Security of embedded devices is increasingly important in the commercial sector. Early commercial tools advertise vulnerability assessment for home networks and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Current approaches are limited, however, and rely on a centralized repository of scanning signatures that must be manually maintained by experts. Most commercial assessment tools also only inspect devices remotely via an IP-based interface. While an array of network-based vulnerability scanners exists for IP-based networks and devices, very few tools exist to audit the attack surface of many embedded devices. The Navy is concerned about zero-day attacks on all computing devices, even if they do not maintain connectivity with an IP-based network.

The Navy desires a tool and method to effectively and efficiently assess the cyber security posture of such devices where auditing for vulnerabilities from a centralized point on a network is not possible. Many devices that must be audited, such as Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), microcontrollers, various engine control units, and navigation systems, either cannot or will not be connected to a network solely for cyber security auditing purposes. An assessment tool must therefore be brought to the device itself. The Navy is looking to develop a man-portable device that a Sailor or Marine could easily carry along and use, featuring an appropriate set of connectors to interface with various cyber physical systems. The device must be able to communicate with a cyber-physical system and analyze using the software loaded on it [Ref 1].

For the purposes of this SBIR topic, assessing a device across an IP-based network is out of scope. Assessing or auditing traditional Information Technology (IT) devices such as workstations and servers is also out of scope. The tool should investigate any available alternative means to interface with cyber-physical or embedded devices. Some common interfaces include: Universal Serial Bus (USB), Joint Test Action Group (JTAG) connections, Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) bus, universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter (UART) and other serial ports such as RS-232, or other bus connections such as On-board Diagnostics (OBD) ports. The class of embedded systems is very broad so proposers should select a specific subset of systems to target and the appropriate interfaces based on what is common to that chosen subset.

When assessing a target device, the security auditing methodology must go beyond traditional signature-based assessments. The goal for this SBIR effort is to emulate a deeper red team approach in an automated and autonomous manner [Refs 1-4]. Due to the much larger array of devices and firmware revisions across embedded devices than IT, it is likely the tool will come across devices and firmware images that have not been previously seen. Discovered vulnerabilities can be stored in a repository for easy testing on future devices, but the tool should be equipped with an array of techniques to perform a vulnerability assessment without any prior knowledge of the device. Firmware extraction techniques can be paired with modern program analysis (e.g., static or dynamic analysis) to reason about the security posture of a device and the software it runs. Dynamic analysis (e.g., fuzzing) can be done but steps should be taken so as not to corrupt the actual device undergoing testing [Ref 3]. Reprogramming or injecting new functionality to the device to aid analysis is within scope but should obey similar rules to not disrupt its original functions.

After analysis, the tool should provide an intuitive interface to a non-expert, presenting possible vulnerabilities and ideally potential recommendations for solutions (remediation). The tool could utilize models of a system and develop attack graphs. The tool should be capable of interfacing with more than one type of system.

PHASE I: Develop a methodology and proof-of-concept tool to execute Red Team in a Box for non-IP-centric embedded or cyber-physical devices. Select a subset of the class of embedded devices on which to focus first and include appropriate system interfaces on the proof-of-concept tool. Provide a limited proof-of-concept application to demonstrate the viability of the approach, to include automated firmware extraction and autonomous analysis. The physical size of the proof-of-concept tool will not be an emphasis at this phase, but a plan should be devised to miniaturize the device to be portable in Phase II. Develop a Phase II prototype plan.

PHASE II: Develop the prototype into a fully functioning handheld appliance capable of interfacing with multiple types of cyber-physical systems with various types of connections. Demonstrate that the device can be used by non-experts and is capable of providing intuitive insights into potential zero-day vulnerabilities.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Work with the Navy to integrate the tool into current cyber assessment processes. Many test and evaluation teams require more automated and more frequent assessment of the cyber security posture of weapons systems and hull, mechanical, and electrical (HM&E) systems. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) will facilitate interactions with NAVSEA, NAVAIR, and SPAWAR to apply the tool to Navy’s cyber-physical systems.

As mentioned in the Description, security of embedded devices is increasingly important in the commercial sector and current methods to provide security have limitations. The market opportunity for a tool with the capabilities described in this SBIR topic is large. It could be applied to various classes of IoT devices such as home automation or wearables, automobiles, industrial controllers, or power plants.


1. Palavicini Jr, G., et al. "Towards Firmware Analysis of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)." 2017.

2. Stephens, N., et al. "Driller: Augmenting Fuzzing Through Selective Symbolic Execution." NDSS 2016.

3. Chen, D., et al. "Towards Automated Dynamic Analysis for Linux-based Embedded Firmware." NDSS 2016.

4. Shoshitaishvili, Y., et al. "Firmalice-Automatic Detection of Authentication Bypass Vulnerabilities in Binary Firmware." NDSS 2015.

KEYWORDS: Cyber; Vulnerability Assessment; Automation; Red Teaming; Embedded Devices; Cyber-physical; Static Analysis; Dynamic Analysis; Fuzzing; Attack Graph; Heuristic



These Navy Topics are part of the overall DoD 2018.2 SBIR BAA. The DoD issued its 2018.2 BAA SBIR pre-release on April 20, 2018, which opens to receive proposals on May 22, 2018, and closes June 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM ET.

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