IanG on Tap

Ian Griffiths in Weblog Form (RSS 2.0)

Blog Navigation

April (2018)

(1 item)

August (2014)

(1 item)

July (2014)

(5 items)

April (2014)

(1 item)

March (2014)

(1 item)

January (2014)

(2 items)

November (2013)

(2 items)

July (2013)

(4 items)

April (2013)

(1 item)

February (2013)

(6 items)

September (2011)

(2 items)

November (2010)

(4 items)

September (2010)

(1 item)

August (2010)

(4 items)

July (2010)

(2 items)

September (2009)

(1 item)

June (2009)

(1 item)

April (2009)

(1 item)

November (2008)

(1 item)

October (2008)

(1 item)

September (2008)

(1 item)

July (2008)

(1 item)

June (2008)

(1 item)

May (2008)

(2 items)

April (2008)

(2 items)

March (2008)

(5 items)

January (2008)

(3 items)

December (2007)

(1 item)

November (2007)

(1 item)

October (2007)

(1 item)

September (2007)

(3 items)

August (2007)

(1 item)

July (2007)

(1 item)

June (2007)

(2 items)

May (2007)

(8 items)

April (2007)

(2 items)

March (2007)

(7 items)

February (2007)

(2 items)

January (2007)

(2 items)

November (2006)

(1 item)

October (2006)

(2 items)

September (2006)

(1 item)

June (2006)

(2 items)

May (2006)

(4 items)

April (2006)

(1 item)

March (2006)

(5 items)

January (2006)

(1 item)

December (2005)

(3 items)

November (2005)

(2 items)

October (2005)

(2 items)

September (2005)

(8 items)

August (2005)

(7 items)

June (2005)

(3 items)

May (2005)

(7 items)

April (2005)

(6 items)

March (2005)

(1 item)

February (2005)

(2 items)

January (2005)

(5 items)

December (2004)

(5 items)

November (2004)

(7 items)

October (2004)

(3 items)

September (2004)

(7 items)

August (2004)

(16 items)

July (2004)

(10 items)

June (2004)

(27 items)

May (2004)

(15 items)

April (2004)

(15 items)

March (2004)

(13 items)

February (2004)

(16 items)

January (2004)

(15 items)

Blog Home

RSS 2.0

Writing

Programming C# 5.0

Programming WPF

Other Sites

Interact Software

Off vs. Standby

Wednesday 10 May, 2006, 05:50 PM

Security expert Bruce Schneier recently wrote about how Nintendo's Wii games console will remain connected while 'off' . In particular he complains that:

"Nintendo is changing the meaning of the word "off." We are all conditioned to believe that "off" means off, and therefore safe. But in Nintendo's case, "off" really means something like "on standby." If users expect the Nintendo Wii to be truly off, they need to pull the power plug"

I was surprised because this is pretty old news. Digital set-top boxes have been doing this for years. BSkyB's digital service launched in October 1998. Software updates to the DigiBox are delivered over the air. However they are transmitted over a specific multiplex. (Or at least they were; it's been many years since I worked for BSkyB.) This requires the box to be tuned into the frequency for that multiplex in order to receive updates, something it can't do if you're watching a channel on some other multiplex.

Because of this, the box would only listen for updates when it was 'off'. Like the Wii console that Schneier complains about, it never really switches off unless you physically disconnect the power. 'Off' is just a different mode, one where it doesn't produce a picture or sound, and where it tunes into the service multiplex and listens for software updates.

(If you have Sky+, it's slightly different. Those boxes have two sets of RF hardware, so it's able to download software updates even while the box is switched on. It's only if you're receiving simultaneously on two different multiplexes that it can't listen for updates. I'm not sure if they do listen for updates when switched on. But it's technically possible, unlike with the simpler DigiBoxes.)

Air vs. Internet

Of course there's a bit of a difference between listening permanently to satellite broadcasts and listening permanently to the Internet. It requires a little more determination for an attacker to send messages to a satellite receiver.

That's not to say it's impossible of course. If someone was specifically out to get you, then they can probably control the 'broadcasts' your STB sees by getting close enough to your receiver dish... And of course an alternative attack vector would be to aim to send stuff over the actual satellite itself - no doubt a suitably-placed insider could do that.

However, by placing an always-on box on the Internet you are actively choosing to put it somewhere that anyone can send it data. Being reachable by design is different from being reachable to anyone prepared to visit your property or your broadcaster's uplink with nefarious intent.

Convergence

I think this development was inevitable. All that's really happening here is the gradual convergence of consumer electronics type devices where 'off' has long been an illusion, and computer-like devices and the concomitant security issues. *sigh*

Copyright © 2002-2018, Interact Software Ltd. Content by Ian Griffiths. Please direct all Web site inquiries to webmaster@interact-sw.co.uk