Code in the wild to infect millions of IoT devices for crippling DDoS attacks

Malicious code released in the wild will make it easier for hackers to infect millions of IoT devices and create botnets capable of launching crippling DDoS attacks.

internet of things
Credit: Gordon Johnson

Oh goody, a hacker dumped source code which could help not overly technical thugs hijack IoT devices in order to launch crippling DDoS attacks.

Mirai is the name of the malware that turns insecure IoT gadgets into a botnet. Security journalist Brian Krebs, who found the leaked source code on Hackforums, said Mirai “spreads to vulnerable devices by continuously scanning the internet for IoT systems protected by factory default or hard-coded usernames and passwords.” Krebs, as you likely know, has been a victim of an IoT botnet that launched a record-breaking DDoS attack against his site.

Thomas Pore, Director of IT and Services at Plixer, which makes security analysis tools, called the Mirai release “an interesting twist” meant “to draw law enforcement attention elsewhere. The code is a gift to cyber criminals looking to enter popular market of DDoS as a Service, and it will be interesting to see who takes control over vulnerable IoT devices, because clearly the author of this code is trying to get out.”

What can Mirai do? Pore said:

A review of the source code shows that Mirai was used for hire, outlining a database for users tracking payment and duration limits. Mirai is capable of multiple attack vectors including but not limited to UDP, DNS and HTTP floods, as well as GRE IP and Ethernet floods. There is also an option for Valve Source Engine (VSE) floods meant to attack games using the Valve game engine.Additionally a listener is hardcoded for TCP/48101, administrators should block or monitor for traffic on TCP/48101 although as new variants pop up, this pop is likely to change.With new IoT devices coming online daily, there isn’t going to be a shortage of available bots any time soon. The future of DDoS looks like it might get a little crowded.

So what’s a person with malware-laced IoT devices participating in DDoS attacks to do? It’s a good news/bad news scenario, according to Krebs.

Infected systems can be cleaned up by simply rebooting them — thus wiping the malicious code from memory. But experts say there is so much constant scanning going on for vulnerable systems that vulnerable IoT devices can be re-infected within minutes of a reboot. Only changing the default password protects them from rapidly being re-infected on reboot.

Gartner predicts there will be 6.4 billion internet-connected things this year and 20.8 billion by 2020. Internet-connected devices which make up the internet-of-things are notoriously insecure and many, such as IP cameras and DVRs, use weak default passwords in the name of being “user-friendly.” Other devices like routers may have hard-coded passwords.

How much security do you really think went into IoT devices like toothbrushes, vibrators, toasters, crockpots, refrigerators, washing machines, Barbie dolls, smart egg trays, face masks, toilets, lightbulbs or wearables? Making sure they aren’t hackable is usually not a company’s top priority while it is rushing its newest IoT gadget to market.

For years, researchers have been making the news by hacking junk IoT devices. Even the 10th annual Pwnie Awards included a category for junk hacking this year; bonus points were to be awarded “for it being a needlessly sophisticated attack against a needlessly internet-enable thing’.” Junk hacking isn’t going away and it hasn’t done a lot to stop companies from selling devices with either haphazard or no security.

When a vulnerability is discovered, does the company bother to create a patch? If so, do consumers know about and deploy it to mitigate the issue or is it left unpatched?

Now that Mirai source code is available to any person wanting to an IoT botnet to launch crippling DDoS attacks, some experts make the situation sound fairly dismal. Even before the code was released, a DDoS botnet made up of cameras and digital video recorders was able to send traffic which peaked at over 1.5Tbps. Not many DDoS mitigation providers can protect against that; if they can, a client would hope they don’t get dropped due to the cost involved in mitigating the attack.

Stephen Gates, chief research intelligence analyst at NSFOCUS, told The Register, “Soon we may see DDoS attacks that are capable of taking down major portions of the Internet, as well as causing brownouts, creating intolerable latency, or making the Internet unusable. This is all collateral damage caused by a failure of good judgement by using the same factory default passwords on IoT devices in the first place.”

Krebs suggested that customers will complain to their ISPs about slow speeds, thanks to hacked IoT devices on their network hogging all the bandwidth. Enough complaints might help push ISPs into doing the right thing by using the BCP38 network security standard to filter out spoofed traffic and “help to lessen the number of vulnerable systems.”

Even the hacker who released Mirai into the wild suggested ISPs are “cleaning” up their act and shutting down IoT botnets. With the code now available in the public domain, so that any thug can create their own army of hacked IoT devices to launch killer DDoS attacks, let’s hope that’s true.

The march toward exascale computers
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies