The escalante technique is a strategy used by security researchers who work to identify flaws in software and to fix them before they are used.
The team members then deploy the exploit to make the bug public, and the vulnerability is patched in a matter of hours or days.
“This is the most popular technique in the industry because it’s a cheap and easy solution to fix security issues,” says security researcher Mary Ann Escalante, who has used escalante techniques for years.
“But it’s also a tool that can be used to compromise a wide variety of systems, including smart meters and water meters.”
The technique works because of a phenomenon known as dynamic security, which refers to the fact that vulnerabilities that may not have been seen in the past are now visible.
When an attacker uses escalante against a system, it means that it knows about vulnerabilities in the system, and it can exploit them.
“If you think about the problem that you’re trying to solve, it’s hard to say if it’s going to be exploited, or if it might be,” Escalantes says.
“We call it dynamic security because you’re looking at it and seeing if it has a way to be exploitable, or exploitable, or both.”
In the escalante case, that means that a vulnerability in the meter could be exploited by someone to make it leak water meters, or the security researcher could try to exploit the vulnerability in a smart meter and then run the meter on someone else’s smart meter.
If an attacker can exploit a vulnerability, it gives them a way of taking control of the system.
“A vulnerability is a way that an attacker is able to get into a system.
And it can be exploited on multiple platforms, which makes it very easy for an attacker to gain access to a system,” says Charles Halliday, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“And if they can’t exploit the flaw, they’re probably not going to want to try to use it.
They’re not going a good place to be.”
The escalantes exploits could be used by a third party to steal credit card information, which could then be used for fraudulent purchases or to track an individual.
“It could be very difficult for an adversary to take over an operating system or a smart device,” says Halliday.
“That’s one of the advantages of escalante: It’s not something you can just say, ‘I’m going to steal your money.’
You can’t do that.”
In a typical attack, the malicious party would then use the vulnerabilities to install a trojan onto the device, which would then install malware on the system itself.
This can then be abused by the attacker to take control of an entire network.
“One of the things escalante does well is it’s very simple, because it requires no sophisticated knowledge of the underlying operating system to use,” Halliday says.
The attacker could, for example, take control over a network administrator account, gain root access to the network, or install malware that would take control and install a backdoor that would allow the attacker access to any machine on the network.
Another way to exploit escalante is to compromise the meter.
“Sometimes you can take advantage of vulnerabilities that exist in the software to install malware, and you could even use the same vulnerability to exploit other systems,” Hallidays says.
For example, a meter might be compromised in the first place and used by the attackers to install malicious code.
“So you could take advantage there,” Halladay says.
Another type of escalant is the remote code execution (RCE) attack, which involves remote code injection, a vulnerability that allows an attacker with the ability to execute code remotely to exploit a flaw in the security software.
Remote code injection is a very serious problem for security software developers, Halliday adds.
“Remote code execution is one of those vulnerabilities that you need to have a serious look at, because of the level of sophistication of the vulnerability, because the attacker can take control,” he says.
Security researchers have used escalant techniques to exploit vulnerabilities in smart meters, water meters and even car audio systems.
“Security researchers often spend their time looking at a vulnerability and figuring out how to exploit it.
But sometimes they want to do more,” Hallways says.
And the idea of using escalante on smart meters is one that has captured the attention of a lot of researchers.
“The escalante method has been used to attack the water meters of the city of De Lima in Peru,” Hallishes says.
In the early 2000s, a team of researchers called Ransomware Lab discovered a bug in a water meter that allowed them to take full control of it.
“They had this vulnerability that they found, and they decided that they wanted to make a lot more money off of it,” Hallish says.
Ransomeware Lab used escalance techniques to take advantage to this,