Working with vendors to “fix” unfixable vulnerabilities: Netgear BR200/BR500

By Erik Cabetas

In the summer of 2021 Joel St. John was hacking on some routers and printers on his IncludeSec research time. He reported security vulnerabilities to Netgear in their BR200 router line (branded as “Netgear Insight Managed Business Router”). During subsequent internal analysis by Netgear, they found that the BR500 line was also affected by the same concerns identified by IncludeSec. We should note that both of these product lines reached their end-of-life date in 2021 around the time we were doing this research.

Today we want to take a quick moment to discuss a different angle of the vulnerability remediation process that we think was innovative and interesting from the perspective of the consumer and product vendor: hardware product replacement as a solution for vulnerabilities. In the following link released today, you’ll find Netgear’s solution for resolving security risks for customers with regard to this case:

We won’t discuss the details of the vulnerabilities reported in this post, but suffice to say, they were typical of other SoHo-type products (e.g., CSRF, XSS, admin functionality access, etc.) but were chained in various ways such that mass exploitation is not possible (i.e., this was not wormable). Regardless of the technical details of the vulnerabilities reported, if you are an owner of a BR200 or BR500 router, you should take this chance to upgrade your product!

That last concept of “upgrade your product” for SoHo devices has traditionally been an update of firmware. This method of product upgrade can work well when you have a small company with a small set of supported products (like a Fitbit, as an example), but what happens when you’re a huge company with hundreds of products, hundreds of third parties, and thousands of business agreements? Well, then the situation gets complicated quickly, thus begging the question, “If I reach a speed bump or roadblock in my firmware fix/release cycle, how do I ensure consumers can remain safe?” or “This product is past its end-of-life date. How do we keep consumers on legacy products safe?”

While we don’t have full knowledge of the internal happenings at Netgear, it’s possible that a similar question and answer scenario may have happened at the company. As of May 19, 2022, Netgear decided to release a coupon to allow consumers to obtain a free or 50% discounted (depending on how long you’ve owned the device) new router of the latest model to replace the affected BR200/BR500 devices. Additionally, both affected router models were marked obsolete and their end of life date hit in 2021. 

We think this idea of offering a hardware product replacement as a solution for customers is fairly unique and is an interesting idea rooted in the good intention of keeping users secure. Of course it is not without pitfalls, as there is much more work required to physically replace a hardware device, but if the only options are “replace this hardware” or “have hardware with vulnerabilities”, the former wins most every time.

As large vendors seek to improve security and safety for theirs users in the face of supply chain complexities common these days in the hardware world, we at IncludeSec predict that this will become a more common model of occurrence especially when thinking about the entire product lifecycle for commercial products and how many points may actually be static due to internal or external reasons which may be technical or business related.

For those who have the BR200/BR500 products and are looking to reduce risk, we urge you to visit Netgear’s web page and take advantage of the upgrade opportunity. That link again is:

Stay safe out there folks, and kudos to all those corporations who seek to keep their users safe with product upgrades, coupons for new devices, or whatever way they can!

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