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3/4/2014
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Malware-Lobbing Hackers Seize 300,000 Routers

Hackers launch scam and malware campaigns after compromising a variety of routers running firmware with known vulnerabilities.

were either publicly documented, or which the researchers found on their own, after a small amount of testing.

"SOHO routers tend to have their flaws from their web management interfaces," said Craig Young, Tripwire's lead security researcher, in a recent phone interview. That's just one reason why one security best practice is to disable -- or leave disabled -- any router features that aren't explicitly required, such as remote management, media streaming, photo sharing, or even the web management interface itself, if possible. "Any feature that you're not using, you don't want to have enabled, because then you're increasing the amount of code you're using, thus increasing your attack surface," he said.

When it comes to procuring more secure routers, some vendors do a better job than others. "I don't usually comment on vendors, but Apple, for example, does not have a web interface in its Airport, so it would be a little more difficult for someone to try and attack it; you're limiting the attack surface by doing that," Young said.

How can IT administrators better protect their routers against takeover attacks? "Command line configuration of devices, where possible, is preferred to web GUI interface methods, as many of the vulnerabilities reported involve CSRF attacks against users logged into the configuration GUI," the Team Cymru report said. "Administrators should also ensure device firmware is kept up to date."

"For larger corporate networks, security professionals could also deploy HTML code to their externally facing servers to attempt to detect remote users' DNS settings, and potentially block users with compromised DNS settings, by using [an] HTML tag with a unique hostname that links visitors' DNS requests to their page visits," it said. "Note that this could add unwanted overhead for large organizations."

The discovery of the DNS-changing campaign follows February's discovery of the Moon worm, which uses HNAP scanning to find vulnerable devices, and then alters their DNS settings to launch a distributed denial-of-service attack against a particular website. Exploit code for that vulnerability has been published on the Internet, meaning that copycat attacks may soon follow.

The large number of routers running publicly known, and exploitable, vulnerabilities was cited as a significant information security concern at last week's RSA conference in San Francisco. The worry is that as more devices -- from refrigerators to toothbrushes -- become Internet-connected, per the so-called Internet of Things, attackers will gain a larger platform of devices that can be exploited and used to launch attacks.

Penetration testing expert and SANS Institute instructor Ed Skoudis predicted at the RSA conference that the large number of vulnerabilities found -- and exploited -- in SOHO routers, as well as webcams, will likely soon be joined by the mass exploitation of Internet-connected thermostats, electronic locks, and home automation equipment. "If you're a vendor who manufactures any of this Internet of Things stuff, make sure you have a proper patching process, because otherwise you're not properly protecting consumers," said Skoudis.

But if router and other security-product vendors can't put easy-to-use -- and effective -- updating processes in place, what hope do consumers have when it comes to securing Internet-connected home appliances and automation tools?

Mobile, cloud, and BYOD blur the lines between work and home, forcing IT to envision a new identity and access management strategy. Also in the The Future Of Identity issue of InformationWeek: Threats to smart grids are far worse than generally believed, but tools and resources are available to protect them. (Free registration required.)

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, as well the InformationWeek information security reporter. View Full Bio

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Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
3/5/2014 | 9:42:40 AM
Just the beginning?
"The large number of vulnerabilities found -- and exploited -- in SOHO routers, as well as webcams, will likely soon be joined by the mass exploitation of Internet-connected thermostats, electronic locks, and home automation equipment."

This is really a scary thought. If router manufacturers aren't proactively hardening equipment they sell to the the SOHO market, it's hard to imagine that the IoT products in the pipeline will be any more secure.

 
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