Guardians of IoT: Safeguarding Connectivity of Input and Output Channels

Coalfire Cybersecurity Team

September 28, 2023
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Ensuring the security of the Internet of Things (IoT) demands a meticulous examination of industry-specific vulnerabilities and a profound comprehension of data handling. Have you taken the necessary steps to confirm that your chosen third-party security vendor possesses a comprehensive understanding of the specific requirements concerning your devices, clients, and partners?

Key takeaways:

  • IoT devices, including barcode scanners and USB ports, have transformed industries like healthcare and retail but also introduce security vulnerabilities that require attention to protect sensitive data.
  • Barcode scanners and USB ports are attractive targets for attackers due to their physical accessibility and the potential for exploiting vulnerabilities in their software or hardware.
  • To address these vulnerabilities, organizations should implement a multifaceted security approach that includes input validation, access controls, encryption, user awareness, and regular security assessments for barcode scanners and USB ports on IoT devices.

The widespread adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices has revolutionized almost every industry, including healthcare and retail. However, the integration of IoT technology introduces security vulnerabilities that must be addressed to protect sensitive data. This blog explores some common vulnerabilities associated with barcode scanners and USB ports in IoT devices, focusing on their input and output (I/O) components.

Crucially, we provide a high-level discussion of readily implementable, preventative measures that not only serve to safeguard sensitive data but also play a crucial role in fostering trust among customers and patients.

Barcode scanners and USB ports are integral to contemporary technology and are critical pillars of our digital infrastructure. However, their indispensability is paralleled by a sobering reality: they are prime targets for attackers seeking to infiltrate networks, steal data, and compromise systems.

Given the physical accessibility of both barcode scanners and USB ports, attackers can easily exploit the entry points. These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the increasing integration of emerging technologies within interconnected systems, further expanding the potential attack surface.

For example, barcode scanners, used extensively in industries like retail and healthcare, fall victim to cyber threats due to their reliance on complex image parsing and decoding software.

Attackers often exploit weaknesses in this software using barcodes that trigger unauthorized actions or code execution. For USB ports, the auto-run feature can be used to execute scripts from USB devices, propagating malware or giving attackers a foothold on the IoT device.

As industries become more reliant on these technologies, the increasing risks underscore the need for robust security measures to safeguard against evolving cyber threats.

Delving into barcode scanner security risks

Barcode scanners play a crucial role in retail and supply chain management. However, they can become entry points for security breaches if not properly secured.

Input vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in barcode scanners’ input mechanisms can allow attackers to inject data or compromise the integrity of scanned information.

Specific input vulnerabilities include:

  1. Barcode Injection: Attackers can design barcodes with arbitrary code, exploiting vulnerabilities in the barcode scanner’s decoding software. When scanned, the code might trigger unauthorized actions, data leakage, or system compromise.
  2. Buffer Overflows: Poorly coded scanner software can lead to buffer overflow vulnerabilities, where input data exceeds the memory buffer’s capacity. Attackers can exploit this to execute arbitrary code or crash the system.
  3. Denial of Service (DoS): Barcode scanners connected to networked systems can be targeted with barcodes designed to trigger software bugs or consume excessive resources, leading to system crashes or slowdowns.
  4. Data Injection: Hackers might craft barcodes to inject data into the connected systems, potentially compromising databases, introducing malware, or causing data corruption.


Effectively addressing these input vulnerabilities requires a multifaceted approach that includes rigorous input validation, stringent access controls, and user education efforts.

Output vulnerabilities

Output vulnerabilities in barcode scanners can compromise data integrity and unauthorized access.

One significant concern is data leakage, where decoded information displayed on the scanner's screen becomes visible to unauthorized individuals. In scenarios where sensitive data such as patient records, pricing details, or proprietary information is exposed, the consequences can be detrimental.

Furthermore, attackers might exploit the trust established between the scanner and the connected system, manipulating output to execute unauthorized commands or actions.

Output vulnerabilities might not be as commonly discussed, but they present their own set of threats, as illustrated below:

  1. Data Leakage: Barcode scanners often display decoded data on screens. If sensitive data, such as product prices or patient information, is not properly protected, it could be visible to unauthorized individuals.
  2. Eavesdropping: Wireless barcode scanners communicating over unencrypted channels can expose data to interception, allowing attackers to capture and potentially misuse the transmitted information.
  3. Firmware Tampering: Attackers might compromise the firmware of barcode scanners to manipulate the output data displayed on screens. For instance, prices could be altered, leading to incorrect transactions.


These vulnerabilities can be addressed by implementing secure display mechanisms, encryption protocols, and user awareness initiatives to ensure that the data captured and displayed by barcode scanners remains shielded from prying eyes and potential misuse.

Exploring security concerns associated with USB ports

USB ports are prevalent in various IoT devices, enabling data transfer and connectivity. However, they can be exploited to introduce malware or unauthorized access to systems.

Attackers can use USB devices to introduce malicious code, compromising the security of connected devices or networks. Here's a closer look at select input vulnerabilities that can compromise your system:

  1. Malware-Infected Devices: USB devices can introduce viruses, ransomware, or other code into your system when plugged in, leading to data breaches or system-wide compromise.
  2. Auto-Run Exploits: Cybercriminals may exploit the auto-run feature of USB devices to trigger scripts upon connection, infecting your system without user interaction.
  3. USB Firmware: Hackers can manipulate the firmware of USB devices, exploiting vulnerabilities in the IoT device, installing or hijacking keyboards, or even emulating network adapters to exfiltrate data.


Output vulnerabilities

Output vulnerabilities within USB ports can have wide-ranging consequences across industries. Below are some of the key output vulnerabilities frequently posed by adding USB ports to IoT devices:

  1. Data Exfiltration: Insider threats or attackers with physical access can easily copy sensitive data to a USB drive, bypassing network security measures.
  2. Eavesdropping: Devices connected via USB can be susceptible to eavesdropping attacks, potentially leaking confidential information during data transfers.
  3. Exploiting Device Trust: USB devices can mimic trusted peripherals (e.g., keyboards), tricking systems into accepting commands and, ultimately, compromising security.


Mitigating IoT security risks:

To enhance IoT security and mitigate vulnerabilities in barcode scanners and USB ports, consider the following measures:

  • Implement strong access controls and authentication mechanisms to restrict unauthorized access to devices and systems.
  • Regularly update firmware and software to patch known vulnerabilities and protect against emerging threats. If possible, provide and use secure automated update mechanisms.
  • Conduct regular security assessments and penetration tests to identify and address potential weaknesses in the devices and their associated networks.
  • Utilize secure communication protocols, such as Transport Layer Security (TLS), to encrypt data transmissions and protect against eavesdropping or tampering.
  • Implement input validation techniques to ensure the integrity and reliability of user input, including input from barcodes and peripheral devices.
  • Establish strict USB usage policies and configurations, including device whitelisting and scanning for malware, to prevent unauthorized or infected USB drives from compromising systems. If possible, disable or eliminate any unused USB ports.
  • Provide comprehensive cybersecurity training for employees, emphasizing best practices for device usage, data handling, and reporting any suspicious activities.
  • Perform a meticulous code review of the barcode scanner software and USB port drivers. Look for coding errors, insecure input handling, and potential vulnerabilities that might be exploited.


As IoT devices continue to shape industries, addressing the security vulnerabilities associated with barcode scanners and USB ports is vital.

By focusing on securing input and output mechanisms, implementing strong authentication and access controls, ensuring encrypted communication, and conducting regular security assessments, organizations can fortify their defenses against potential IoT-related attacks.

Proactive measures not only protect sensitive data but also uphold operational integrity and maintain the trust of customers and patients in an increasingly interconnected world.