Posted by Chris Millikin, Public Defender (Security Engineering Manager)
[Cross-posted from the Official OnHub Blog]
Since OnHub launched, we’ve highlighted a variety of features that enable users to do the things they love online without having to deal with the annoying router issues that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. These include: Fast, reliable Wi-Fi for more than 100 devices at a time, easy streaming and sharing, and wide-ranging coverage that helps eliminate dead zones.
We haven’t, however, highlighted one of OnHub’s most powerful features: Industry-leading security. Your router is the first line of defense for your online world. Because bad actors are aware of the critical position routers occupy in the network, routers are frequently the target of security attacks.
OnHub’s security features go beyond those of the typical router: OnHub is hardened against a variety of attacks, protecting your home network from many online threats. Three features in particular help ensure OnHub protects your data and devices from a variety of threats.
Three Security features that set OnHub apart
1. Defense in Depth
There are many elements that go into creating a robust defense in depth.
Auto updates: OnHub regularly downloads automatic updates without you having to do anything–a long-established practice on mobile devices and software like Chrome, but one that appliances haven’t caught up with yet. These updates provide regular maintenance fixes and address critical vulnerabilities. They’re like the seatbelts of online security— internet security experts recommend that users always accept updates.
However, when updates don’t happen automatically, many people don’t bother. OnHub communicates directly with Google, and makes sure all software is signed and verified. For instance, when a vulnerability was found in a software library (glibc) earlier this year, we were able to update OnHub’s entire fleet of devices within just a few days. In comparison, the vast majority of other routers require active user intervention to protect against such threats.
Verified Boot: Verified Boot protects you by preventing compromised OnHubs from booting. We use this technology in Chromebooks, strictly enforce it in Android Nougat, and we implemented it in OnHub from the very beginning. This makes OnHub extremely difficult to attack or compromise. For instance, the device runs software that has been cryptographically signed by Google.
Cloud administration: A traditional router is commonly attacked through its local administration web interface, where attackers have taken advantage of exploits like CSRF to remotely take control and change critical settings like DNS, so we eliminated that from the beginning. Instead OnHub is managed through the cloud, with strong authentication and authorization, using a simple phone app. A read-only API is available only on the internal network, to provide important data to the OnHub app during setup and when troubleshooting.
Process isolation: We also layer multiple techniques such as process isolation (uid/gid separation, namespaces, capability whitelists) and seccomp filtering to isolate network-facing services, which helps reduce potential attack scenarios in a given application by preventing an attacker from making lateral movements in the system.
2. Hardware Provenance
Modern hardware devices include many types of chips, drivers, and firmware. It’s important to know what each part is doing and where it came from. Our security team works to track the origins of all hardware, software, and firmware that goes into OnHub, including those from third-party sources. If a vulnerability is ever found, OnHub security works to fix the problem immediately.
The same goes for the open source components of OnHub. Before shipping, we do comprehensive code reviews of critical attack surfaces (i.e. network facing daemons), looking for security vulnerabilities. For example, we reviewed miniupnpd, hostapd, and dnsmasq. As a result of those reviews, Google reported security bugs to the open source project maintainers and offered patches. Here are three that we fixed: bugs in hosted.
3. Cloud Intelligence
We use anonymized metrics from our fleet of OnHubs to quickly detect and counter potential threats. For example, since we know that DNS is often a target of attacks, we monitor DNS settings on all OnHub routers for activity that could indicate a security compromise. This is “cloud intelligence” – a benefit that Google is uniquely able to deliver. By connecting OnHub to the Google cloud, we provide the same level of protection you expect across all your Google apps and devices. Because you manage your router through the cloud using your secure Google identity, you don’t have to remember yet another password for managing your OnHub, and you don’t have to be at home to control it.
Security Improvements, Automatically
OnHub also participates in Google’s Vulnerability Reward Program, which started in 2010 to honor all of the cutting-edge external contributions that help us keep our users safe. Through this program, if you can find a qualifying bug in OnHub’s security, rewards range from $100 to $20,000. Click here for an outline of the rewards for the most common classes of bugs.
When it comes to security, not all routers are created equal. OnHub protects you and your network with security that continues to adapt to threats. We’re always improving OnHub security, and automatically update without users having to take any actions. As cybersecurity evolves and new threats emerge, OnHub will be ready to meet the latest challenges for years to come.