Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

3/11/2008
08:20 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

FTP Hacking on the Rise

First it was stolen FTP server admin privileges. Now it's spam messages with bot-infected FTP links

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) has attracted renewed interest lately, but not in a good way: The bad guys are now using the ‘70s disco-era file transfer technology to serve up bot malware, and even as a backdoor into some enterprises that neglect to lock down their FTP servers.

Researchers at F-Secure have spotted a new wave of exploits that use FTP -- rather than a malicious URL, or the conspicuous email attachment -- to deliver their malware payloads. “As SMTP and HTTP are much better filtered for malware, FTP might be the best transport protocol for a virus writer,” says Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for F-Secure. “We've just started to observe this phenomenon -- it's not widespread yet, but likely to increase.”

Last month, researchers at Finjan stumbled onto a cache of stolen FTP server administrative credentials that put nearly 9,000 FTP servers at some major global companies at risk, demonstrating just how widespread the old-school FTP remains at many organizations. Cybercriminals were selling a new crimeware package that would automatically infect those servers, some of which were from the world's top 100 domains. (See Stolen FTP Credentials Offered for Sale: Major Firms at Risk.)

F-Secure’s team last week discovered malicious Hallmark greeting card spam messages aimed at recruiting bots. The messages’ links to “view” the greeting instead take the victims to a bot-infected machine serving as an FTP site. The code it downloads is actually a variant of the Zapchast mIRC-bot, according to F-Secure. Instead of receiving the greeting, the user becomes a bot.

So why this retro-borne attack, especially when use of FTP is on the wane? FTP today is often a forgotten or unknown hole in the security of an organization -- not many enterprises bother to monitor it. And for bot herders, it’s just another means of moving malware.

“FTP is more popular than anyone knows -- a lot of people still send FTP stuff back and forth because it’s easy to do,” says Taher Elgamal, CTO of Tumbleweed Communications, which sells secure FTP software. And from the bad guy’s perspective, FTP is less likely to be blocked than an instant message, he says. “FTP is sort of left alone because it’s supposed to be an old thing no one cares about. But it’s an effective protocol for transferring large files... That’s why we’re seeing this [attack] phenomenon.”

Elgamal says the bad guys can hop on Port 80 and ship FTP through that port, for example, and a firewall wouldn’t block the file transfer. Some Internet gateways scan for FTP traffic, such as F-Secure’s Internet Gatekeeper, which does so by default. But many organizations just don’t bother scanning for FTP traffic at all either because they don’t consider it a risk or they don’t realize it’s being used, security experts say.

Still, the FTP-borne attack obviously won’t ever be as big as an HTTP-borne one. “Most companies wouldn't set up a new FTP site any more -- it's so old school. [But] the [FTP] sites that are out there are old and often forgotten about and poorly protected,” F-Secure’s Hypponen says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

  • F-Secure Corp.
  • Finjan Software Inc.
  • Tumbleweed Communications Corp. (Nasdaq: TMWD)

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
    Dark Reading Staff 10/23/2020
    Modern Day Insider Threat: Network Bugs That Are Stealing Your Data
    David Pearson, Principal Threat Researcher,  10/21/2020
    Are You One COVID-19 Test Away From a Cybersecurity Disaster?
    Alan Brill, Senior Managing Director, Cyber Risk Practice, Kroll,  10/21/2020
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon
    Current Issue
    Special Report: Computing's New Normal
    This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
    Flash Poll
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2020-27743
    PUBLISHED: 2020-10-26
    libtac in pam_tacplus through 1.5.1 lacks a check for a failure of RAND_bytes()/RAND_pseudo_bytes(). This could lead to use of a non-random/predictable session_id.
    CVE-2020-1915
    PUBLISHED: 2020-10-26
    An out-of-bounds read in the JavaScript Interpreter in Facebook Hermes prior to commit 8cb935cd3b2321c46aa6b7ed8454d95c75a7fca0 allows attackers to cause a denial of service attack or possible further memory corruption via crafted JavaScript. Note that this is only exploitable if the application usi...
    CVE-2020-26878
    PUBLISHED: 2020-10-26
    Ruckus through 1.5.1.0.21 is affected by remote command injection. An authenticated user can submit a query to the API (/service/v1/createUser endpoint), injecting arbitrary commands that will be executed as root user via web.py.
    CVE-2020-26879
    PUBLISHED: 2020-10-26
    Ruckus vRioT through 1.5.1.0.21 has an API backdoor that is hardcoded into validate_token.py. An unauthenticated attacker can interact with the service API by using a backdoor value as the Authorization header.
    CVE-2020-15272
    PUBLISHED: 2020-10-26
    In the git-tag-annotation-action (open source GitHub Action) before version 1.0.1, an attacker can execute arbitrary (*) shell commands if they can control the value of [the `tag` input] or manage to alter the value of [the `GITHUB_REF` environment variable]. The problem has been patched in version ...