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Oct 16

Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess

The European Commission is drafting new cybersecurity requirements to beef up security around so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as Web-connected security cameras, routers and digital video recorders (DVRs). News of the expected proposal comes as security firms are warning that a great many IoT devices are equipped with little or no security protections.

iotb2According to a report at Euractiv.com, the Commission is planning the new IoT rules as part of a new plan to overhaul the European Union’s telecommunications laws. “The Commission would encourage companies to come up with a labeling system for internet-connected devices that are approved and secure,” wrote Catherine Stupp. “The EU labelling system that rates appliances based on how much energy they consume could be a template for the cybersecurity ratings.”

In last week’s piece, “Who Makes the IoT Things Under Attack?,” I looked at which companies are responsible for IoT products being sought out by Mirai — malware that scans the Internet for devices running default usernames and passwords and then forces vulnerable devices to participate in extremely powerful attacks designed to knock Web sites offline.

One of those default passwords — username: root and password: xc3511 — is in a broad array of white-labeled DVR and IP camera electronics boards made by a Chinese company called XiongMai Technologies. These components are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

That information comes in an analysis published this week by Flashpoint Intel, whose security analysts discovered that the Web-based administration page for devices made by this Chinese company (http://ipaddress/Login.htm) can be trivially bypassed without even supplying a username or password, just by navigating to a page called “DVR.htm” prior to login.

Worse still, even if owners of these IoT devices change the default credentials via the device’s Web interface, those machines can still be reached over the Internet via communications services called “Telnet” and “SSH.” These are command-line, text-based interfaces that are typically accessed via a command prompt (e.g., in Microsoft Windows, a user could click Start, and in the search box type “cmd.exe” to launch a command prompt, and then type “telnet” to reach a username and password prompt at the target host).

“The issue with these particular devices is that a user cannot feasibly change this password,” said Flashpoint’s Zach Wikholm. “The password is hardcoded into the firmware, and the tools necessary to disable it are not present. Even worse, the web interface is not aware that these credentials even exist.”

Flashpoint’s researchers said they scanned the Internet on Oct. 6 for systems that showed signs of running the vulnerable hardware, and found more than 515,000 of them were vulnerable to the flaws they discovered.

Flashpoint says the majority of media coverage surrounding the Mirai attacks on KrebsOnSecurity and other targets has outed products made by Chinese hi-tech vendor Dahua as a primary source of compromised devices. Indeed, Dahua’s products were heavily represented in the analysis I published last week.

For its part, Dahua appears to be downplaying the problem. On Thursday, Dahua published a carefully-worded statement that took issue with a Wall Street Journal story about the role of Dahua’s products in the Mirai botnet attacks.

“To clarify, Dahua Technology has maintained a B2B business model and sells its products through the channel,” the company said. “Currently in the North America market, we don’t sell our products directly to consumers and businesses through [our] website or retailers like Amazon. Amazon is not an approved Dahua distributor and we proactively conduct research to identify and take action against the unauthorized sale of our products. A list of authorized distributors is available here.”

Dahua said the company’s investigation determined the devices that became part of the DDoS attack had one or more of these characteristics:

-The devices were using firmware dating prior to January 2015.
-The devices were using the default user name and password.
-The devices were exposed to the internet without the protection of an effective network firewall.

The default login page of Xiongmai Technologies “Netsurveillance” and “CMS” software. Image: Flashpoint.

The default login page of Xiongmai Technologies “Netsurveillance” and “CMS” software. Image: Flashpoint.

Dahua also said that to the best of the company’s knowledge, DDoS [distributed denial-of-service attacks] threats have not affected any Dahua-branded devices deployed or sold in North America.

Flashpoint’s Wikholm said his analysis of the Mirai infected nodes found differently, that in the United States Dahua makes up about 65% of the attacking sources (~3,000 Internet addresses in the US out of approximately 400,000 addresses total).

ANALYSIS

Dahua’s statement that devices which were enslaved as part of the DDoS botnet were likely operating under the default password is duplicitous, given that threats like Mirai spread via Telnet and because the default password can’t effectively be changed.

Dahua and other IoT makers who have gotten a free pass on security for years are about to discover that building virtually no security into their products is going to have consequences. It’s a fair bet that the European Commission’s promised IoT regulations will cost a handful of IoT hardware vendors plenty.

Also, in the past week I’ve heard from two different attorneys who are weighing whether to launch class-action lawsuits against IoT vendors who have been paying lip service to security over the years and have now created a massive security headache for the rest of the Internet.

I don’t normally think class-action lawsuits move the needle much, but in this case they seem justified because these companies are effectively dumping toxic waste onto the Internet. And make no mistake, these IoT things have quite a long half-life: A majority of them probably will remain in operation (i.e., connected to the Internet and insecure) for many years to come — unless and until their owners take them offline or manufacturers issue product recalls.

Perhaps Dahua is seeing the writing on the wall as well. In its statement this week, the company confirmed rumors reported by KrebsOnSecurity earlier, stating that it would be offering replacement discounts as “a gesture of goodwill to customers who wish to replace pre-January 2015 models.” But it’s not clear yet whether and/or how end-users can take advantage of this offer, as the company maintains it does not sell to consumers directly. “Dealers can bring such products to an authorized Dahua dealer, where a technical evaluation will be performed to determine eligibility,” the IoT maker said.

In a post on Motherboard this week, security expert Bruce Schneier argued that the universe of IoT things will largely remain insecure and open to compromise unless and until government steps in and fixes the problem.

“When we have market failures, government is the only solution,” Schneier wrote. “The government could impose security regulations on IoT manufacturers, forcing them to make their devices secure even though their customers don’t care. They could impose liabilities on manufacturers, allowing people like Brian Krebs to sue them. Any of these would raise the cost of insecurity and give companies incentives to spend money making their devices secure.”

I’m not planning on suing anyone related to these attacks, but I wonder what you think, dear reader? Are lawsuits and government regulations going to help mitigate the security threat from the 20 billion IoT devices that Gartner estimates will be plugged into the Internet by 2020? Sound off in the comments below.

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117 comments

  1. The only true fix on the problem is to implement a new router protocol and new router intelligence, which enables detection of DDOS attacks (and other attacks in the future), and closing off of segments of the routers connected subnets for a period of time, until the DDOS attack seems gone.

    The protocol could perhaps be implemented in parallel with a new more secure DNS protocol.

    Attempting to put liability on Mr and Mrs Jensen because they decided to purchase a pocket radio with built in streaming from the internet, is absolutely stupid.

    Next problem is the definition of “safe for internet”… when i ssomething safe to be connected to the internet?
    As bugs surface all the tine, what was “safe” yesterday will not be safe tomorrow.
    So should a US$10 device require life time automatic updates to get bugs fixed? and what are the implications of allowing update over the net for millions of IoT devices…. doesnt that introduce an even greater risk for malicious firmware installations?

    Fix the problem instead of beliving that rules and punishment can solve things.

    • Where did anyone say anything about punishing the users? It’s the device makers who created this mess. They should clean it up.

      • Because that will automatically be the end result. Where do you think vendors will get their money from to pay sky high insurance rates, to constantly update software to comply with new threats, to add all the additional burocrazy layers that needs to be handled etc?
        From Mr and Mrs Jensen and co.

  2. It seems for every web based convenience there are 5 things to do to counter security flaws – which is great news for the security industry.