Akamai: 12-Year-Old SSH Vulnerability Fueling Internet-Of-Broken-Things DDoS Attacks, And Worse

from the security-as-a-distant-afterthought dept

We've increasingly covered how the "internet of poorly secured things" has contributed to a rise in larger DDoS attacks than ever before. The barely-there security standards implemented by companies more interested in hype than quality meant it didn't take long before hackers were able to incorporate "smart" refrigerators, power outlets, TVs and other IoT devices in the kind of DDoS attacks that recently took down security researchers like Brian Krebs. The end result is DDoS attacks that continue to break records, first 620Gbps in the Krebs attack, then more recently a 1.1 terabits per second attack on a French web host.

But just how bad have things become? A new report by Akamai warns that hackers are using a 12-year-old vulnerability in OpenSSH to funnel malicious network traffic through IoT devices. SSH certainly can be implemented securely, but as with every other security aspect of the IoT, many hardware vendors aren't bothering to do so. Akamai's data indicates roughly 2 million devices have been compromised by this type of hack, which the firm dubs SSHowDowN.

CVE-2004-1653 is a default configuration in old versions of OpenSSH that can be exploited by an attacker to forward ports, letting a hacker route malicious traffic through the device as part of the overall DDoS command and control infrastructure. To pull this off you need the device's admin username and password; certainly not a problem in the IoT space where default logins are often the norm. Akamai notes that many IoT devices not only ship with this vulnerability intact, but with no ability to fix it:
"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, Threat Research, 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."
Of course the internet-of-poorly-secured things isn't just useful for DDoS attacks. Brian Krebs has penned a new blog post noting how criminals are often using hacked IoT hardware as proxies to obscure their real location as they engage in tax return fraud and other criminal activity, courtesy of your not-so-smart WiFi-enabled tea kettle or home-automation system. An anonymous researcher tells Krebs he was able to track the various "honeypot" systems he configured as they were traded and sold as malware-infested proxies in exchange for bitcoin.

In short, flimsy Internet of Things security, combined with already often-dubious embedded security in routers, is kind of a throwback to the wild west of the 1990s when the idea of your mom's PC as a botnet participant was kind of novel. Krebs' source puts it this way:
"In a way, this feels like 1995-2000 with computers," my source told me. "Devices were getting online, antivirus wasn’t as prevalent, and people didn’t know an average person’s computer could be enslaved to do something else. The difference now is, the number of vendors and devices has proliferated, and there is an underground ecosystem with the expertise to fuzz, exploit, write the custom software. Plus, what one person does can be easily shared to a small group or to the whole world."
And again, while the abysmal state of IoT security can often be funny, firms like Gartner predict that the population of Internet of Things devices will top 20.8 billion by 2020, up from 6.4 billion or so today. Researchers like Bruce Schneier have been warning for some time that the check is about to come due in the form of attacks that may put human lives at risk at an unprecedented scale, lighting a fire under researchers who believe that automated cyberdefense and self-healing network technologies we haven't invented yet are what stand between us and the not-so-smart device cyber apocalypse.
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Filed Under: ddos, iot, security, ssh
Companies: akamai


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Oct 2016 @ 5:27am

    Re: Re:

    True enough. Still, an ISP can detect a large amount of traffic being directed at unusual targets. It's expected to have huge traffic towards Youtube but towards Krebs? You don't have to filter individual traffic as far as I can see. And once you identify these unusual traffic spikes you can identify who generated it and proceed to tackle the individual user issues (ie: get in touch and warn the user that the system detected malware traffic from their end). Users are generally not tech savvy so a little help won't hurt and it may help save resources for the ISP.

    Krebs is doing his job identifying both networks and devices that are more compromised. There's a Chinese network that is almost fully compromised. It's safe to say that blocking it all will help mitigate the problem for instance.

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