You Might Not Be Able To Read This

Early today, some party unleashed a massive DDoS attack against Dyn, a major DNS host. This led to a number of websites being completely inaccessible. DNS is the backbone of the Internet. It is the phone book that turns URLs into IP addresses. Without it, the Internet still works, but you won’t be able to find anything.

Over the past few months, security professionals have suggested — in as responsible terms as possible — that something big could happen. In early September [Bruce Schneier] wrote, Someone Is Learning How To Take Down The Internet. The implication of this very general warning is that someone — possibly a state actor, but don’t be too sure about that — was figuring out how to attack one of the core services of the web. The easiest way to effectively ‘turn off the Internet’ for everyone is a Distributed Denial of Service attack against root servers, DNS servers, or some other service that plays a key role in the web.

Dyn is responding well to the attack this morning, and the Internet is safe from attack for the time being. As for who is responsible for the attack, what the goal is, and if this will happen again, no one knows. An attack on this scale is most certainly someone with a very large pocketbook or a state actor (Russia, China, the US, UK, Germany, Israel, or the like) but that’s not a given. It’s also not given the DDoS attacks have stopped. You might not be able to read this, but if you can, it might be a good idea to find a shortwave radio.

How To Become Part Of An IoT Botnet

We should all be familiar with the so-called Internet Of Things, a proliferation of Internet-connected embedded electronics. The opportunities offered to hardware hackers by these technologies have been immense, but we should also be aware of some of the security issues surrounding them.

Recently, the website of the well-known security researcher [Brian Krebs] suffered a DDoS attack. What made this attack different from previous ones wasn’t its severity, but that it had been directed not from botnets of malware-laced Windows PCs but from compromised IoT devices.

One might ask how it could be possible to take control of such low-end embedded hardware, seeing as it would normally be safely behind a firewall, preloaded with its own firmware, and without a clueless human at its terminal to open malware-laden email attachments. The answer is quite shocking but not entirely surprising, and lies in some astonishingly poor security on the part of the devices themselves. An exposé of one such mechanism comes courtesy of [Brian Butterly], who took an unremarkable IP webcam and documented its security flaws.

The camera he examined exposes two services, a web interface and a Telnet port. While from a security perspective their lack of encryption is a concern this should not pose a significant danger when the device is safely on a private network and behind a suitable firewall. The problem comes from its ability to send its pictures over the Internet, for the owner to be able to check their camera from their phone some kind of outside access is required. Expensive cameras use a cloud-based web service for this task, but the cheap ones like the camera being examined simply open a port to the outside world.

If you are familiar with basic firewall set-up, you’ll be used to the idea that open ports are something that should be under control of the firewall owner; if a port has not been specifically opened then it should remain closed. How then can the camera open a port? The answer lies with UPnP, a protocol enabled by default on most home routers that allows a device to request an open port. In simple terms, the camera has an inherently insecure service which it asks the router to expose to the world, and in many cases the router meekly complies without its owner being any the wiser. We suspect that many of you who have not done so already will now be taking a look at your home router to curtail its UPnP activities.

We covered the [Brian Krebs] DDoS story  as it unfolded last week, but we’re sure this is likely to be only the first of many stories in this vein. As manufacturers of appliances struggle to learn that they are no longer in the dumb appliance business they need to start taking their software security very seriously indeed.

Webcam image: Asim18 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Distributed Censorship or Extortion? The IoT vs Brian Krebs

Now it’s official. The particular website that was hit by a record-breaking distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack that we covered a few days ago was that of white-hat security journalist [Brian Krebs]: Krebs on Security.

During the DDOS attack, his site got 600 Gigabits per second of traffic. It didn’t involve amplification or reflection attacks, but rather a distributed network of zombie domestic appliances: routers, IP webcams, and digital video recorders (DVRs). All they did was create HTTP requests for his site, but there were well in excess of 100,000 of these bots.

In the end, [Krebs’] ISP, Akamai, had to drop him. He was getting pro bono service from them to start with, and while they’ve defended him against DDOS attacks in the past, it was costing them too much to continue in this case. An Akamai exec estimates it would have cost them millions to continue defending, and [Brian] doesn’t blame them. But when Akamai dropped the shields, his hosting provider would get slammed. [Krebs] told Akamai to redirect his domain to localhost and then he went dark.

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Extra-Large Denial of Service Attack Uses DVRs, Webcams

Brace yourselves. The rest of the media is going to be calling this an “IoT DDOS” and the hype will spin out of control. Hype aside, the facts on the ground make it look like an extremely large distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) was just carried out using mostly household appliances (145,607 of them!) rather than grandma’s old Win XP system running on Pentiums.

Slide from <a href="">this talk</a> by Lisa Plesiutschnig
Replace computers with DVRs. Slide from this talk by Lisa Plesiutschnig

We can argue all day about whether a digital video recorder (DVR) or an IP webcam is an “IoT” device and whether this DDOS attack is the biggest to date or merely among them, but the class of devices exploited certainly are not traditional computers, and this is a big hit. Most of these devices run firmware out of flash, and it’s up to the end user (who is not a sysadmin) to keep it up to date or face the wrath of hackers. And it’s certainly the case that as more Internet-facing devices get deployed, the hacker’s attack surface will grow.

Why did the DDOS network use these particular devices? We’re speculating, but we’d guess it’s a combination of difficult-to-update firmware and user “convenience” features like uPnP. To quote the FBI “The UPnP describes the process when a device remotely connects and communicates on a network automatically without authentication.” You can see how this would be good for both the non-tech-savvy and hostile attackers, right? (Turn off UPnP on your router now.)

We alternate between Jekyll and Hyde on the IoT. On one hand, we love having everything in our own home hooked up to our local WiFi network and running on Python scripts. On the other hand, connecting each and every device up to the broader Internet and keeping it secure would be a system administration headache. Average users want the convenience of the latter without having to pay the setup and know-how costs of the former. Right now, they’re left out in the cold. And their toasters are taking down ISPs.

Hack a Day 2: Electric Boogaloo

Well, that was fun… no, not really, but we’re back from the dead like Steve Jobs. We’ve been getting DDoS’d since essentially the first day we originally came back. After killing a 1G connection, we decided to find a different solution. Since the world didn’t end this week, we brought the site back using as the new host. We now return to our regular blog shenanigans. Here’s to another four years of beta!

Russia vs Georgia, the online front

While we’re sure that just about everyone has heard about the conflict between Russia and Georgia, few have probably heard about the role of cyber attacks in the conflict. Shortly before Russia’s armed response, Georgian state web servers were attacked by individuals assumed to be Russian hackers. This attack almost completely obliterated Georgia’s online presence by shutting down the website for the Ministry of Defense, and the Central Government’s main site. The Russian attackers seem to be using some form of sustained DDoS to keep many Georgian sites offline. In an effort to preserve some web presence, the Georgian Government transferred [President Mikheil Saakashvili]’s site to a US hosting provider in Atlanta. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs even created a BlogSpot page after their website initially went down. While politically motivated DDoS attacks have not been rare in past months, this seems to be the first time where the attacking party can be clearly identified. This seems to be the start of a trend where the unconventional methods of cyber warfare are used to gain an advantage over the enemy.

[photo: somefool]

Phlashing denial of service attack, the new hype

Imagine how surprised we were to discover that by accidentally bricking our router we were executing a brand new attack: Phlashing Denial Of Service (PDOS). This week at EUSecWest, researcher [Rich Smith] will present the theoretical PDOS attack. Instead of taking over control of an embedded system, the attacker turns it into a nonfunctioning brick by flashing it with a broken firmware. Anyone who has flashed a device knows the danger of interrupting the procedure.

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