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Research Shows How Solar Energy Installations Can Be Abused by Hackers

Researchers at cybersecurity firm FireEye have analyzed a gateway device used for solar energy installations, and discovered vulnerabilities that could be useful to malicious hackers.

Researchers at cybersecurity firm FireEye have analyzed a gateway device used for solar energy installations, and discovered vulnerabilities that could be useful to malicious hackers.

The targeted device is the ConnectPort X2e made by Digi International, a US-based company that provides IT, networking and IoT solutions for industrial, enterprise and smart city applications. FireEye conducted its research on a version of the device offered by Tesla under the SolarCity brand — Tesla acquired solar panel maker SolarCity in 2016.

The X2e device is a programmable gateway used for residential and small commercial solar installations. It’s typically used to read data from a solar inverter and provide a connection to cloud-based applications.

FireEye’s research involved a physical inspection of the device, an analysis of debugging interfaces, removing the NAND storage, analyzing the file system and bootloader, glitch attacks, and software exploitation.

SolarCity device vulnerabilities

The research led to the discovery of two vulnerabilities: one related to the existence of hardcoded credentials (CVE-2020-9306), and a privilege escalation flaw (CVE-2020-12878) — both were classified as high severity. The security holes were reported to both Tesla and Digi, and they have been patched.

According to FireEye, an attacker who has network access to the targeted device could exploit the vulnerabilities to obtain a root shell and remotely take complete control of the device.

“If an attacker is able to compromise an X2e device, they would have access to a networked device in a home or enterprise,” FireEye researchers Jake Valletta and Sam Sabetan told SecurityWeek.

“X2e’s are typically only used for data collection purposes and if compromised, an attacker could install a backdoor on the X2e which could be used to laterally move in a network, call out to a remote server for persistent access, or stage a larger attack on the victim’s network,” they added, clarifying that “this scenario holds for any compromised IoT device on a network.”

The researchers noted that the device is typically behind a residential firewall so remote attacks directly from the internet should not be possible, unless the user has intentionally made it accessible from the web.

“However, ConnectPort X2e’s are used for various purposes and are not exclusive to solar installations. Therefore, it is possible some X2e devices, based on their use case, are exposed to the Internet,” they explained.

FireEye has made available detailed technical information on its research into the X2e device [part 1 and part 2].

Related: Malware Found on USB Drives Shipped With Schneider Solar Products

Related: Vulnerabilities Found in Popular Solar Park Monitoring System

Related: Solar Panel Flaws Put Power Grids at Risk: Researcher

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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