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Vulnerabilities / Threats

11/14/2013
04:59 PM
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What The Carna Botnet Also Found

Researcher at Black Hat Brazil to present new data and analysis of the controversial Internet Census project

The researcher who rocked the security world earlier this year by revealing he had built a botnet to conduct a census of the Internet remains anonymous, but has passed to a white-hat researcher more security findings from the controversial project.

Parth Shukla, an information security analyst with Australia's Computer Emergency Response Team (AusCERT), says he was interested in how Australian consumers had fared in the so-called Carna Botnet experiment, so earlier this year he decided to email the researcher via the PGP key included in the Internet Census 2012 report that was posted online in March. Shukla admits he was surprised when the researcher responded and ultimately handed over to him all of the data on the more than 1.2 million vulnerable consumer devices found around the globe by the botnet.

"No one else had been in touch with him," says Shukla, who was the only one the researcher decided should have the data once he began analyzing it. "Who he is, I have no idea. We used PGP keys to communicate, and I kept using some questions to be sure he was the guy and not giving fake data."

For months Shukla has been analyzing the data to gain a better understanding of the security implications of the findings, and he plans to share more of his analysis and data at the Black Hat Regional Summit in Sao Paolo, Brazil, taking place Nov. 26 to 27. He has presented data in Australia and, most recently, China that focuses on how each region fares with these vulnerable devices.

Among the findings he culled from the botnet data: More than 2,000 different manufacturers' products were wide open to access via a Telnet connection over the public Internet, and 28 percent of them were Chinese vendor ZTE's products. China also made up the largest percentage of infected and prone devices, with 56 percent of the vulnerable devices (720,141), while Hong Kong was home to 7 percent of infections (91,453), and Brazil had 2 percent, (30,242 devices). The U.S., meanwhile, also accounted for some 2 percent of the prone devices, with 24,243.

By region, Asia accounted for 78 percent of the vulnerable equipment; Europe, 13 percent; South America, 5 percent; North America, 3 percent; and Africa, 1 percent.

"I was shocked he didn't mention in [his] paper the wealth of information in the data ... it was only the census data" in his paper, Shukla says.

Modems, home routers, Web cameras, and other consumer devices were found wide open to the Internet with default usernames and passwords via the Telnet protocol, he says. "It's pretty concerning," he says. "Manufacturers are creating the devices this way -- the user is unaware of it and plugging it straight into the Internet."

[Created by an anonymous researcher, the Carna botnet found that 1.2 million Internet-connected devices are trivially exploitable, but the illegality of the methods raises doubts. See Carna Compromise Delivers Data, But Casts Suspicions.]

Shukla says it would take an average of 60 seconds to find a vulnerable device in China via a scan of the Internet.

Legitimate scanning of the Internet for vulnerable devices -- not infecting them with bot code like the Carna Botnet did -- is all the rage these days. Renowned researcher HD Moore has pioneered legal scanning of the Net, most recently illuminating exposure of some 35,000 enterprise servers via a flawed firmware interface that could leave a data center open to outside attack. Moore also helped spearhead the new community Internet-scanning Project Sonar initiative. The goal of Project Sonar, which also includes the University of Michigan, is for researchers to share their data, help educate vendors whose products are discovered via the scans, and, ultimately, to raise public awareness of the vulnerability of this Internet-facing equipment.

AusCERT's Shukla says awareness is crucial to remedying the practice of leaving Internet-connected devices exposed. Even so, it's a long road: "I've only heard back from one vendor in the top 25" found from the Carna Botnet project, he says. "And I haven't heard back from them in months."

Shukla's research paper on his exclusive analysis of the Carna Botnet findings is here.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. 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

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