A Review of IoT Firmware Vulnerabilities and Auditing Techniques

Sensors (Basel). 2024 Jan 22;24(2):708. doi: 10.3390/s24020708.


In recent years, the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm has been widely applied across a variety of industrial and consumer areas to facilitate greater automation and increase productivity. Higher dependability on connected devices led to a growing range of cyber security threats targeting IoT-enabled platforms, specifically device firmware vulnerabilities, often overlooked during development and deployment. A comprehensive security strategy aiming to mitigate IoT firmware vulnerabilities would entail auditing the IoT device firmware environment, from software components, storage, and configuration, to delivery, maintenance, and updating, as well as understanding the efficacy of tools and techniques available for this purpose. To this effect, this paper reviews the state-of-the-art technology in IoT firmware vulnerability assessment from a holistic perspective. To help with the process, the IoT ecosystem is divided into eight categories: system properties, access controls, hardware and software re-use, network interfacing, image management, user awareness, regulatory compliance, and adversarial vectors. Following the review of individual areas, the paper further investigates the efficiency and scalability of auditing techniques for detecting firmware vulnerabilities. Beyond the technical aspects, state-of-the-art IoT firmware architectures and respective evaluation platforms are also reviewed according to their technical, regulatory, and standardization challenges. The discussion is accompanied also by a review of the existing auditing tools, the vulnerabilities addressed, the analysis method used, and their abilities to scale and detect unknown attacks. The review also proposes a taxonomy of vulnerabilities and maps them with their exploitation vectors and with the auditing tools that could help in identifying them. Given the current interest in analysis automation, the paper explores the feasibility and impact of evolving machine learning and blockchain applications in securing IoT firmware. The paper concludes with a summary of ongoing and future research challenges in IoT firmware to facilitate and support secure IoT development.

Keywords: Internet of Things; firmware auditing; reverse engineering; security testing.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.