Hackers abusing a 12-year-old flaw to attack the internet of insecure things

A 12-year-old vulnerability in OpenSSH is being used to attack the 'internet of unpatchable things.'

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Credit: Mac Kenzie

The internet of insecure things just keeps getting murkier and more problematic. Researchers have determined that hackers are abusing a 12-year-old vulnerability in OpenSSH to attack the ‘internet of unpatchable things’.

Since anyone can now download the Mirai source code – it’s is even on GitHub – then players across the field, both botnet dabblers and researchers, are playing around with the malware that hijacks IoT devices and is responsible for the largest DDoS attack on record.

In fact, researchers at Incapusla are already reporting new attacks that seem to be “experimental first steps of new Mirai users who were testing the water after the malware became widely available. Likely, these are signs of things to come and we expect to deal with Mirai-powered attacks in the near future.”

Is the sky really falling or is it FUD? Well, if the underground market treats Mirai malware like it has other malicious source code which has been leaked, then welcome to an IoT DDoSing nightmare. Researchers at F5 said to expect thugs “to adapt, combine, and improve the code, resulting in newer and enhanced variants.” F5 warned, “We can definitely expect the IoT DDoSing trend to rise massively in the global threat landscape.”

IoT devices being used in mass-scale SSHowDowN Proxy attacks

Add to that an OpenSSH vulnerability which has been around for 12 years and the fact that attackers are exploiting the flaw to create huge amounts of traffic for SSHowDowN Proxy attacks launched against e-commerce and other sites.

Researchers at Akamai Technologies disclosed that new targeted attacks, which use a very old flaw, are originating from IoT devices such as: DVR, NVR and CCTV video surveillance devices, satellite antenna equipment, networking devices such as routers, hotspots, WiMax, cable and ADSL modems, and Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices connected to the internet. Other devices hooked online may also be susceptible.

The IoT devices are being used to mount attacks “against a multitude of internet targets and internet-facing services, such as HTTP, SMTP and network scanning,” as well as to mount attacks against internal networks that host the devices.

In many cases, there are default login settings such as “admin” and “admin” or other lax credentials to get to the web management console. Once attackers access the web admin console, they can compromise the device’s data and sometimes even take complete control of the machine.

The attack itself is not new, but Akamai Technologies has seen a surge in SSHowDowN Proxy attacks in which IoT devices are being “actively exploited in mass scale attack campaigns.”

A new report on exploiting IoT and SSHowDowN (pdf) explained that the root causes for the vulnerability include weak factory-default administration credentials, the fact that the devices allow remote SSH connections and the devices allow TCP forwarding.

Default passwords

Default passwords have long plagued the security industry and put users at great risk. Since the Mirai source code was made public, many sites have published the 61 passwords powering the Mirai botnet which is capable of hijacking over 500,000 vulnerable IoT devices.

Double that number by adding in devices with shoddy-to-no-security which are made by the Chinese firm XiongMai Technologies. Flashpoint researchers said there are over 500,000 devices on public IPs that are vulnerable to the username and password combination “root” and “xc3511.”

130,000 vulnerable Avtech systems

Search Lab’s Gergely Eberhardt found 14 vulnerabilities in Avtech devices like DVRs and IP cameras; there are 130,000 Avtech devices exposed on the internet and “Avtech is the second most popular search term in Shodan.”

Eberhardt found the vulnerabilities and first attempted to contact the company back in September 2015. After more than a year and zero response from Avtech, Eberhardt published an advisory and proof-of-concept scripts for the flaws.

If you don’t want your Avtech device to end up as part of an IoT botnet, then owners should change the default admin password and go the extra safe mile of never exposing “the web interface of any Avtech device to the internet.”

You should always change the default passwords to anything, but some manufacturers didn’t have enough concern for users to build in that option.

Internet of unpatchable things

“We're entering a very interesting time when it comes to DDoS and other web attacks; 'The Internet of Unpatchable Things' so to speak,” explained Ory Segal, senior director of Threat Research at Akamai. “New devices are being shipped from the factory not only with this vulnerability exposed, but also without any effective way to fix it. We've been hearing for years that it was theoretically possible for IoT devices to attack. That, unfortunately, has now become the reality.”

$50,000 for innovative IoT security solution

MITRE, on the other hand, hopes to find innovative IoT security solutions and launched the Unique Identification of IoT Devices Challenge. The winner will walk away $50,000 richer and the solution may help to save us from an IoT nightmare.

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