Crickets from Chirp Systems in Smart Lock Key Leak

Crickets from Chirp Systems in Smart Lock Key Leak

The U.S. government is warning that “smart locks” securing entry to an estimated 50,000 dwellings nationwide contain hard-coded credentials that can be used to remotely open any of the locks. The lock’s maker Chirp Systems remains unresponsive, even though it was first notified about the critical weakness in March 2021. Meanwhile, Chirp’s parent company, RealPage, Inc., is being sued by multiple U.S. states for allegedly colluding with landlords to illegally raise rents.

On March 7, 2024, the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned about a remotely exploitable vulnerability with “low attack complexity” in Chirp Systems smart locks.

“Chirp Access improperly stores credentials within its source code, potentially exposing sensitive information to unauthorized access,” CISA’s alert warned, assigning the bug a CVSS (badness) rating of 9.1 (out of a possible 10). “Chirp Systems has not responded to requests to work with CISA to mitigate this vulnerability.”

Matt Brown, the researcher CISA credits with reporting the flaw, is a senior systems development engineer at Amazon Web Services. Brown said he discovered the weakness and reported it to Chirp in March 2021, after the company that manages his apartment building started using Chirp smart locks and told everyone to install Chirp’s app to get in and out of their apartments.

“I use Android, which has a pretty simple workflow for downloading and decompiling the APK apps,” Brown told KrebsOnSecurity. “Given that I am pretty picky about what I trust on my devices, I downloaded Chirp and after decompiling, found that they were storing passwords and private key strings in a file.”

Using those hard-coded credentials, Brown found an attacker could then connect to an application programming interface (API) that Chirp uses which is managed by smart lock vendor, and use that to enumerate and remotely lock or unlock any door in any building that uses the technology.

Update, April 18, 11:55 a.m. ET: August has provided a statement saying it does not believe August or Yale locks are vulnerable to the hack described by Brown.

“We were recently made aware of a vulnerability disclosure regarding access control systems provided by Chirp, using August and Yale locks in multifamily housing,” the company said. “Upon learning of these reports, we immediately and thoroughly investigated these claims. Our investigation found no evidence that would substantiate the vulnerability claims in either our product or Chirp’s as it relates to our systems.”

Brown said when he complained to his leasing office, they sold him a small $50 key fob that uses Near-Field Communications (NFC) to toggle the lock when he brings the fob close to his front door. But he said the fob doesn’t eliminate the ability for anyone to remotely unlock his front door using the exposed credentials and the Chirp mobile app.

Also, the fobs pass the credentials to his front door over the air in plain text, meaning someone could clone the fob just by bumping against him with a smartphone app made to read and write NFC tags.

Neither August nor Chirp Systems responded to requests for comment. It’s unclear exactly how many apartments and other residences are using the vulnerable Chirp locks, but multiple articles about the company from 2020 state that approximately 50,000 units use Chirp smart locks with August’s API.

Roughly a year before Brown reported the flaw to Chirp Systems, the company was bought by RealPage, a firm founded in 1998 as a developer of multifamily property management and data analytics software. In 2021, RealPage was acquired by the private equity giant Thoma Bravo.

Brown said the exposure he found in Chirp’s products is “an obvious flaw that is super easy to fix.”

“It’s just a matter of them being motivated to do it,” he said. “But they’re part of a private equity company now, so they’re not answerable to anybody. It’s too bad, because it’s not like residents of [the affected] properties have another choice. It’s either agree to use the app or move.”

In October 2022, an investigation by ProPublica examined RealPage’s dominance in the rent-setting software market, and that it found “uses a mysterious algorithm to help landlords push the highest possible rents on tenants.”

“For tenants, the system upends the practice of negotiating with apartment building staff,” ProPublica found. “RealPage discourages bargaining with renters and has even recommended that landlords in some cases accept a lower occupancy rate in order to raise rents and make more money. One of the algorithm’s developers told ProPublica that leasing agents had ‘too much empathy’ compared to computer generated pricing.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice threw its weight behind a massive lawsuit filed by dozens of tenants who are accusing the $9 billion apartment software company of helping landlords collude to inflate rents.

In February 2024, attorneys general for Arizona and the District of Columbia sued RealPage, alleging RealPage’s software helped create a rental monopoly.

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