Data Breach News

Researchers Discover Vulnerabilities In Biometric Terminals

The vulnerabilities could allow threat actors to bypass authentication, steal sensitive data, and even gain full control of the affected terminals.

by Alan J June 12th, 2024

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Kaspersky researchers discovered widespread vulnerabilities in biometric terminals developed by ZKTeco, which are known to be deployed internationally. These flaws could be exploited by threat actors to bypass authentication, steal sensitive data, and even gain full control over affected terminals.

The vulnerabilities pose a major risk, as these biometric terminals are often white-labeled to be sold under various brand names by multiple distributors. They are also widely used in high-security/sensitive environments, such as nuclear power plants, chemical plants or hospitals while storing thousands of facial templates.

Vulnerabilities in ZKTeco Biometric Terminals

Biometric terminals see multiple uses aside from their primary purpose of acquiring biometric data such as fingerprints, voices, facial features, or irises. They can be connected to other scanners to support alternative authentication methods, or be deployed as a means of ensuring employee productivity or to reduce fraud.

These devices see increasing usage in confidential facilities such as power plants, executive suites or server rooms. ZKTeco biometric terminals support facial recognition(with the ability to store thousands of face templates), password entry, electronic pass, and QR codes.

Researchers conducted several tests to assess the security and reliability of these devices, finding 24 different vulnerabilities that may be exploited by threat actors in real attack scenarios on confidential facilities:

  • 6 SQL injection vulnerabilities
  • 7 buffer stack overflow vulnerabilities
  • 5 command injection vulnerabilities
  • 4 arbitrary file write vulnerabilities
  • 2 arbitrary file read vulnerabilities

The researchers grouped some of the more critical vulnerabilities present in these devices by their attack type:

  • Physical Bypass via Fake QR Codes
    CVE-2023-3938 allows cybercriminals to perform a SQL injection attack by injecting malicious code into access strings. This could allow them to gain unauthorized entry to restricted areas.
  • Biometric Data Theft and Backdoor Deployment
    The CVE-2023-3940 and CVE-2023-3942 vulnerabilities could give attackers access to sensitive user data and password hashes stored on the device. Additionally, CVE-2023-3941 could allow them to remotely alter device databases, allowing them to potentially add unauthorized individuals into systems or create a backdoor.
  • Remote Code Execution
    The CVE-2023-3939 and CVE-2023-3943 flaws enable the execution of arbitrary commands or code on the device, effectively giving attackers full control and the ability to launch further attacks on the wider network.

Georgy Kiguradze, Senior Application Security Specialist at the cybersecurity firm, expressed concern over the risks posed by these vulnerabilities in real scenarios, risks posed by deepfake and social engineering tactics, and the urgency of immediately patching these vulnerabilities. He stated:

“The impact of the discovered vulnerabilities is alarmingly diverse. To begin with, attackers can sell stolen biometric data on the dark web, subjecting affected individuals to increased risks of deepfake and sophisticated social engineering attacks. Furthermore, the ability to alter the database weaponizes the original purpose of the access control devices, potentially granting access to restricted areas for nefarious actors. Lastly, some vulnerabilities enable the placement of a backdoor to covertly infiltrate other enterprise networks, facilitating the development of sophisticated attacks, including cyberespionage or sabotage. All these factors underscore the urgency of patching these vulnerabilities and thoroughly auditing the device’s security settings for those using the devices in corporate areas.”

Mitigating Risks to Biometric Terminals

The researchers stated that they had disclosed all information about the discovered vulnerabilities to ZKTeco, but lacked accessible data on whether these vulnerabilities had been patched.

The researchers have shared the following recommendations to protect these biometric terminals from attacks in the meanwhile:

  • Isolate biometric reader usage into a separate network segment.
  • Employ robust administrator passwords and change default ones.
  • Audit and fortify the device’s security settings, including enabling temperature detection.
  • If feasible, minimize the use of QR code functionality.
  • Regularly update the device’s firmware.


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