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Police body cams are scarily easy to hack into and manipulate, researcher finds

Although the jury’s still out on their effectiveness, body-worn cameras for police are generally viewed as a positive development. As part of an effort to make law enforcement more transparent, the hope is that they may be used to both protect civilians against excessive use of force, as well as safeguard police against unfounded complaints. But body cams are not infallible — as a security researcher recently revealed.

Speaking recently in Las Vegas at the annual hacker conference DefCon, Nuix cybersecurity expert Josh Mitchell demonstrated how it is possible to manipulate footage from police body cams. Mitchell’s demo used five different cameras — including Vievu, Patrol Eyes, Fire Cam, Digital Ally and CeeSc — and showcased how these could be hacked into and potentially altered. This could include deleting or altering footage or amending crucial metadata, including where and when footage was shot. It could also open the door to bad actors being able to track the location of police officers.

“I have uncovered that hacking [and] editing body camera footage is not just possible, but entirely too easy,” Mitchell told Digital Trends. “These systems have multiple unsecured attack points, and fail to have even the most basic security practices. One device allowed root telnet access without a password. I could replace videos on another device by simply using FTP to overwrite existing evidence files. The third device encrypted and password protected evidence files by using the file name as the encryption key. None of the devices I have tested digitally sign the evidence files. Furthermore, every device I have tested allows for unsecured firmware updates.”

For obvious reasons, this is bad news. Making it worse is the fact that the security vulnerabilities are not difficult to exploit. Mitchell was able to carry out his hacks without needing to develop any custom software. “The risks would be entirely dependent on the motivation of the individual to carry out the attack,” he said. “I would say that the impact and ease of exploitation are very high.”

Mitchell suggests several possible solutions to the problem, although implementing all of these would likely mean purchasing new devices. They include digitally signing all evidentiary information, digitally signing all device firmware, randomizing all SSID and MAC information, utilizing modern exploitation prevention mechanisms, and keeping bundled software up-to-date.

“Proactively, departments need to disable wireless connectivity,” he said, noting that this is not possible in all cases.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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