Unsafe: Smartwatches vulnerable to attack


“Consumer demand for new and exciting technologies have far surpassed the implementation of security measures.”

Smartwatches contain significant vulnerabilities, including insufficient authentication, lack of encryption and privacy concerns, a new study has shown.

As part of an ongoing series looking at Internet of Things (IoT) security, HP has unveiled results of an assessment confirming that smartwatches with network and communication functionality represent a new and open frontier for cyberattack. The study conducted by HP’s security software arm, Fortify, found that 100% of the tested smartwatches tested were open for attack.

As the IoT market advances, smartwatches are growing in popularity for their convenience and capabilities, HP noted. The company said that as these devices become more mainstream, they will increasingly store more sensitive information such as health data, and through connectivity with mobile apps may soon enable physical access functions including unlocking cars and homes.

Matt White, senior manager in KPMG’s cyber security practice commented on HP’s study: “With the high profile release of smartwatches in recent months, it was inevitable that security flaws were identified.  As is often the case, consumer demand for new and exciting technologies have far surpassed the implementation of security measures.”

While Jason Schmitt, general manager, HP security, Fortify, stated: “Smartwatches have only just started to become a part of our lives, but they deliver a new level of functionality that could potentially open the door to new threats to sensitive information and activities. As the adoption of smartwatches accelerates, the platform will become vastly more attractive to those who would abuse that access, making it critical that we take precautions when transmitting personal data or connecting smartwatches into corporate networks.”

HP stated that as manufacturers work to incorporate necessary security measures into smartwatches, consumers should be urged to consider security when choosing to use a smartwatch. It recommended that users do not enable sensitive access control functions such as car or home access unless strong authorisation is offered.

In addition, enabling passcode functionality, ensuring strong passwords and instituting two-factor authentication will help prevent unauthorised access to data. HP added that these security measures are not only important to protecting personal data, but are critical as smartwatches are introduced to the workplace and connected to corporate networks.

Continuing, White said: “The final ingredient is the level of awareness of the end user. It would be a fair assumption that for the average consumer the general level of awareness is low, but this begs the question of who should be responsible for the protection of them?  Should it be the manufacturer or the user themselves?  The answer isn’t clear, but it’s likely that the ‘bad guys’ won’t be waiting for security to catch up with the current advancements.”

HP used HP Fortify on Demand to assess 10 smartwatches, along with their Android and iOS cloud and mobile application components, uncovering numerous security concerns.

The most common and easily addressable security issues reported included insufficient user authentication and authorisation; every smartwatch tested was paired with a mobile interface that lacked two-factor authentication and the ability to lock out accounts after three to five failed password attempts. Altogether three out of the 10 (30%), were vulnerable to account harvesting, meaning an attacker could gain access to the device and data via a combination of weak password policy, lack of account lockout, and user enumeration.

White commented: “Many of the watches (and other wearable technologies,) use ‘device pairing’ along with pin or password to provide authentication, but this alone provides limited protection from a serious assailant.  As with many security conversations, the level of security is a recipe of convenience, user experience and security.”

Lack of transport encryption was another flaw; transport encryption is critical given that personal information is being moved to multiple locations in the cloud. While 100% of the test products implemented transport encryption using SSL/TLS, 40% of the cloud connections continued to be vulnerable to the POODLE attack, allowed the use of weak cyphers, or still used SSL v2.

Also, insecure interfaces; 30% of the tested smartwatches used cloud-based web interfaces, all of which exhibited account enumeration concerns. In a separate test, 30% also exhibited account enumeration concerns with their mobile applications. This vulnerability enables hackers to identify valid user accounts through feedback received from reset password mechanisms.

Insecure software and firmware was also a problem; a full 70% of the smartwatches were found to have concerns with protection of firmware updates, including transmitting firmware updates without encryption and without encrypting the update files. However, many updates were signed to help prevent the installation of contaminated firmware. While malicious updates cannot be installed, lack of encryption allows the files to be downloaded and analysed.

Finally, HP found privacy concerns; all the test smartwatches collected some form of personal information, such as name, address, date of birth, weight, gender, heart rate and other health information. Given the account enumeration issues and use of weak passwords on some products, exposure of this personal information is a concern.


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