X10 Home Automation Systems Easily Hacked

Two computer researchers at this years DefCon Hacking Conference in Las Vegas demonstrated an X10 jammer which can be used to Hack Into home automation systems which run through power lines using the antiquated X10 protocol.

According to Wired.com the hackers showed how they can gain access to an X10 based automation, alarm and security camera system using a specially made sniffer device, an internet connection and an electrical outlet.              Photo by David Kennedy & Rob Simon

The hackers manipulated lights, thermostats, security cameras and even turned on and off alarm systems via their specially made sniffer device and broadband connection in 15 different homes.  In addition to gaining control over the X10 systems the hackers could just sit and watch and observe the movements of home owners in their houses as they moved from room to room via motion sensors and X10 cameras.

Referring to X10 Dave Kennedy, one of the hackers said “None of the manufacturers have implemented really any security whatsoever on these devices, ….  it’s such an immature technology”.   In fairness the X10 protocol was originally developed thirty years ago in the 1970’s at a time when internet and broadband where not publicly available and security protocols were never deemed necessary at the time.

The hackers spent two months researching and designing their device using open source tools.  The hackers focused on X10 systems because it was an easy target since it does not support any type of encryption.  The hackers were also able to hack into a Z-wave device which did not have the AES encryption properly set up.

The X10 hacking device is being release to the public as the X10 Sniffer and the X10 Blackout which jams X10 signals and interferes with the proper operation of X10 modules, cameras and alarms.

Tip – Warning:  If you have an X10 based Security System, Cameras or X10 home automation modules STOP! Using them Immediately and consider them to be unsafe and unsecure.  The X10 Sniffer and Blackout Modules are readily available for sale on the internet and it’s only a matter of time till a burglar in your area gets a hold of one.

X10 Devices, Alarm Systems and Cameras are still being sold over the internet and and some electronics stores at heavy discounts mostly to Do-It-Yourselfer’s or home owners looking to say a buck on a home security, integration or video camera system.  If you recently purchased an X10 device, alarm or camera system and can return it to the store for a refund – Do so immediately.  If you are using an X10 alarm, security camera system or other X10 devices be aware these devices are NOT Secure and can be taken over easily by a hacker and your camera’s can be viewed without your knowledge.

ION Security is a leader in secure affordable Home Automation, Home Integration, Alarm Systems and Video Camera Monitoring Solutions.  If you currently have an X10 based system and have questions or concerns call Doyle at 780-489-5522 or email info@ionsecuritysystems.com.

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2 Responses to X10 Home Automation Systems Easily Hacked

  1. Bill Christensen says:

    I use a landline telephone based X-10 for simple power-on/power-off, but everything’s behind an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). I have been unable to pass an X-10 signal through the UPS (at one point I really wanted that ability).

    Can I still assume that I’m relatively safe against whatever hacks these guys were attempting? I’m guessing that if the signal won’t pass through the UPS, neither will whatever the sniffer is doing.

    • djsedm says:

      Thanks for writing in Bill, A UPS or any type of GOOD QUALITY Power filter (APC, Monster, Furman, Tripp Lite etc…) will prevent anybody HACKING into your X-10 peripherals but as you discovered these type of POWER FILTERS, CONDITIONERS or UPC’s also prevent your X-10 system from working.

      Here’s why: The X-10 home automation equipment was engineered in the 70’s long before ethernet, wifi and the internet were widely available. X-10 as you know uses the electrical wiring in your home to carry signals from the controller to the specific module or X-10 peripheral. Unlike a dedicated point to point connection like ethernet (cat5) the X-10 Signal piggybacks onto the power line in the form of NOISE or Static. X-10 deliberately puts NOISE on the AC line, but it’s not just random Noise but rather STRUCTURED NOISE. The sending X-10 unit adds STRUCTURED NOISE to the power line which is then received and decoded by the receiving X-10 unit and the desired control response is activated. Of course in order for this to occur the NOISE has to be able to be transmitted onto the POWER LINE and when you use a POWER FILTER/CONDITIONER or UPS the noise is filtered and cleaned up before it ever reached the power line and thus not carried to the appropriate X-10 Module.

      X-10 is easy to HACK and an OPEN Protocol. Back in the 70’s no one envisioned the need for Encryption and therefore X-10 signals are blasted to all devices on the power line and decoded by each device as needed. X-10 communication is non-proprietary and open, it’s like making a CB or WALKIE TALKIE transmission, anybody else on the same frequency can hear your message. The same holds true for X-10. This is why all anybody has to do is by a $99 piece of hardware on the internet, plug it into any outside power outlet on your house and in minutes they can gain full control over your X-10 equipment. Insteon has similar problems and Insteon devices have also been controlled and hacked by unauthorized users.

      Z-Wave, Zig-Bee and Lutron Radio RA2 are the two most popular home automation standards today. These automation devices use encryption in there communication and are therefore far more reliable and secure than X-10 and Insteon. I’m not saying X-10 and Insteon are good or bad, I’m just simply saying that they should be used with caution and are far more open to external hacks than Z-WAve, Zig-Bee and Radio Ra2.

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