The author of a popular software-defined radio (SDR) project has removed a “backdoor” from radio devices that granted root-level access. The backdoor had been, according to the author, present in all versions of KiwiSDR devices for the purposes of remote administration and debugging. Last night, the author pushed out a “bug fix” on the project’s GitHub aimed at removing this backdoor silently, which sparked some backlash. Since then, the author’s original forum posts and comments with any mention of “backdoor” have been removed over the last few hours.

KiwiSDR is a software-defined radio that can be attached to an embedded computer, like Seeed BeagleBone Green. It is provided either as a standalone board or a more complete version featuring BBG, a GPS antenna, and an enclosure. SDRs are aimed at replacing radio frequency (RF) communication hardware with software or firmware for carrying out signal processing activities that would normally require hardware devices. The concept is analogous to software-defined networking.

KiwiSDR user interface with different RF controls. Photo Credits: KiwiSDR

Yesterday, Mark Jessop, an RF engineer, and radio operator came across an interesting forum post in which the author of the KiwiSDR project admitted to having remote access to all radio receiver devices running the software. Another user, M. dug out a 2017 forum thread where KiwiSDR’s developer admitted that a backdoor indeed provided them with remote access to all KiwiSDR devices.

Although the entire KiwiSDR forum site has become inaccessible as of today, an archived copy of the forum post seen by BleepingComputer confirms the contents of the tweet:

KiwiSDR software author stated there’s a backdoor in all devices giving them remote access Source: BleepingComputer

Furthermore, as of today, over 600 KiwiSDR devices are online with the backdoor still present in them.

Although these devices are mainly acting as radio receivers, it is worth noting, any remote actor who logs in using the hardcoded master password is granted root-level access to the device’s console. This can enable adversaries to probe into the IoT devices, take them over, and begin traversing adjacent networks the radio devices are connected to:

“These KiwiSDRs are used for receiving HF radio stations. The backdoor itself doesn’t give an attacker any special SDR access, just that they can access the console of the device and start pivoting into networks,” ethical hacker xssfox told BleepingComputer.

An image of the KiwiSDR panel obtained by BleepingComputer shows console level access with root access is possible:

KiwiSDR remote admin panel provides root access to the device console. Photo Credits: GitHub

A video created by xssfox demonstrates how the backdoor can be exploited via a simple HTTP GET request. Note: the superuser password (kconbyp) shown above is an older password, SHA256 hash of which used to be present on KiwiSDR devices. The more recent hash is different, indicating “kconbyp” won’t work on later versions of KiwiSDR and that a newer master password has been present.

As seen by BleepingComputer, as of a few hours ago a fix has been committed to KiwiSDR’s GitHub project removing the backdoor code. The update removes multiple administrative functions, and specifically the code that compares the provided master password against its SHA256 hash:

KiwiSDR author removes hardcoded password from devices, Photo Credits: GitHub

Jessop clarified that there is no indication of KiwiSDR’s author having misused the backdoor access, which had been introduced with the intention of debugging KiwiSDR devices in good faith. He further said KiwiSDR developers have been extremely responsive in patching bugs and adding features. But, like others, the engineer did express concerns that the master password would transmit over HTTP enabling any Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) threat actor to potentially intercept it and consequently gain remote access to all devices.

Some Redditors also expressed that backdoors were never okay, regardless of whether HTTPS was in use:

“No way. Back doors are never okay. Password was sent in the clear, as HTTPS isn’t supported. Eventually someone would have exploited this. Hell, someone might have already exploited this and we just don’t know about it.”

KiwiSDR users should upgrade to the latest version released on GitHub that removes the backdoor from their radio devices.

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Nikoleta Yanakieva Editor at DevStyleR International