Embedded Ideation

Thoughts from inside the box

AirPort Hacking Update

Since writing an article on the subject about 2 years ago, I’ve continued to poke at AirPort devices in my spare time. This will most likely be my final post on the subject, so I’ll provide some code I wrote and a brief description of discoveries made along the way.

AirPyrt Tools

To facilitate interacting with AirPort devices I implemented several parts of the management protocol in Python. This implementation is incomplete but provides a starting point for further research or developing your own client. These tools aren’t suitable for production, most importantly due to the lack of SRP authentication and the encryption protocol used in new firmwares. This means the admin password and all session data goes over the network unencrypted.

The code is available on GitHub. The README contains a list of things I didn’t get around to finishing for the initial release.

cflbinary Property Lists

Several protocol messages and NVRAM properties are found in a serialized format. This format is another, previously undocumented type of plist. It is similar to the bplist format in that variable size objects are demarcated by an identifier and in some cases a size value (see OBJECT TABLE starting at line 244). It does not support key/object references or set types however, and objects are concatenated (or in the case of dicts, nested).

The Python implementation handles composing and parsing cflbinary plists. It does not support date objects, but I did not find that object type in any captures (though it is supported by the client and server).

Basebinary Firmware

Firmware updates are available from http://apsu.apple.com/version.xml. I wrote a simple script to parse this plist and download all available firmwares.

Most of the basebinary containers hold encrypted data. The cipher used is AES in CBC mode, with a 128 bit key differing per device model. An obfuscated form of the key is compiled into crunchprog. The firmware data itself is encrypted in 0x8000 byte chunks.

The released code includes an implementation to decrypt basebinary files as well as a few keys for devices that I had on hand. One caveat, the tool must be run twice on a given file to extract the internal gzimage (as all available downloads contain two nested containers with only the inner one encrypted).

SRP Authentication and Session Encryption

The current management protocol version uses SRP to authenticate to a server without sending the admin password over the network. The shared secret generated from this process is fed into PBKDF with a different salt and iteration count on the client and server. This provides two unidirectional session keys for client-server communication. The cipher used is AES in CTR mode. A partial implementation is located here.

This is not fully implemented in the released code. pysrp differs slightly from AppleSRP which causes the two to be incompatible. AppleSRP is basically the SRP reference implementation modified on the client to use CommonCrypto and corecrypto rather than OpenSSL.

In order to experiment with SRP, I wrote a wrapper around the AppleSRP framework using ctypes. This interface allows for calling the necessary functions to perform the SRP client or server negotiation, as well as dump several structures by operating on pointers returned by these functions for debugging.

crunchprog Reversing

The userspace binary, crunchprog, contains all of the programs and libraries normally found on a NetBSD system linked into one massive 10MB+ file (depending on the device and firmware version). With shell access to the device, a list of included programs can be displayed by creating a hard link to another program named “crunchprog” and executing it. The statically linked libraries include: libc, libpthread, openssl, CoreFoundation (a modified version) and AppleSRP.

Analyzing this monolithic blob can be tedious. I’ve released one helpful IDA script to identify static CFStrings which makes reversing some daemons, including ACPd, a bit easier. One thing to note, the script is fairly hacky and may need to be run more than once to get all the string references labeled.

NetBSD Toolchain

With shell access to the device, it is possible to push ELF binaries (such as GDB) to assist with further analysis. On devices without scp, ssh and dd can be used together to copy over files. Due to the lack of shared libraries on the root filesystem, all such programs must be statically linked. Using NetBSD’s build.sh it’s relatively simple to hack together a working toolchain for this purpose:

  • grab gnusrc, sharesrc, src, and syssrc from the NetBSD archives
  • extract them all in place
  • cd usr/src/

First build the cross toolchain (this example is for ARM little endian):

./build.sh 5 -U -u -a arm -m evbarm -D ../../evbarm/dest/ -O ../../evbarm/obj/ -R ../../evbarm/release/ -T ../../evbarm/tools/ tools

On the second pass, use the same command but swap the final “tools” target with “release” to build all of userspace:

./build.sh -U -u -a arm -m evbarm -D ../../evbarm/dest/ -O ../../evbarm/obj/ -R ../../evbarm/release/ -T ../../evbarm/tools/ release

Finally, copy all the archives and object files from evbarm/dest/usr/lib/ to evbarm/tools/arm--netbsdelf/lib/.

There is probably a cleaner way to do this but it’s what worked for me for building such things as GDB 5. One final note, due to changes in some kernel/library headers, I found it easiest to spin up an Ubuntu 7.04 VM for a NetBSD 4.0 toolchain (which is the version running on most AirPort devices).


There are quite a few protocol components I didn’t yet reverse or implement fully so have left out of this release. The RPC interface provides access to WPS and DHCP operations as well as other features. Despite the incomplete state of the code and brevity of this post, I hope it helps others continue to perform research on these devices.