Posts Tagged: Cisco

Jul 16

Would You Use This ATM?

One basic tenet of computer security is this: If you can’t vouch for a networked thing’s physical security, you cannot also vouch for its cybersecurity. That’s because in most cases, networked things really aren’t designed to foil a skilled and determined attacker who can physically connect his own devices. So you can imagine my shock and horror seeing a Cisco switch and wireless antenna sitting exposed atop of an ATM out in front of a bustling grocery store in my hometown of Northern Virginia.

I’ve long warned readers to avoid stand-alone ATMs in favor of wall-mounted and/or bank-operated ATMs. In many cases, thieves who can access the networking cables of an ATM are hooking up their own sniffing devices to grab cash machine card data flowing across the ATM network in plain text.

But I’ve never before seen a setup quite this braindead. Take a look:

A not-very-secure ATM in front of a grocery store in Northern Virginia.

An ATM in front of a grocery store in Northern Virginia.

Now let’s have a closer look at the back of this machine to see what we’re dealing with:


Need to get online in a jiffy? No problem, this ATM has plenty of network jacks for you to plug into. What could go wrong?

Daniel Battisto, the longtime KrebsOnSecurity reader who alerted me to this disaster waiting to happen, summed up my thoughts on it pretty well in an email.

“I’d like to assume, for the sake of sanity, that the admin who created this setup knows that Cisco security is broken relatively simple once physical access is gained,” said Battisto, a physical and IT security professional. “I’d also like to assume that all unused interfaces are shutdown, and port-security has been configured on the interfaces in use. I’d also like to assume that the admin established a good console login.” Continue reading →

Feb 16

IoT Reality: Smart Devices, Dumb Defaults

Before purchasing an “Internet of things” (IoT) device — a thermostat, camera or appliance made to be remotely accessed and/or controlled over the Internet — consider whether you can realistically care for and feed the security needs of yet another IoT thing. After all, there is a good chance your newly adopted IoT puppy will be:

-chewing holes in your network defenses;
-gnawing open new critical security weaknesses;
-bred by a vendor that seldom and belatedly patches;
-tough to wrangle down and patch

In April 2014, researchers at Cisco alerted HVAC vendor Trane about three separate critical vulnerabilities in their ComfortLink II line of Internet-connected thermostats. These thermostats feature large color LCD screens and a Busybox-based computer that connects directly to your wireless network, allowing the device to display not just the temperature in your home but also personal photo collections, the local weather forecast, and live weather radar maps, among other things.

Trane ComfortLink II thermostat.

Trane ComfortLink II thermostat.

Cisco researchers found that the ComfortLink devices allow attackers to gain remote access and also use these devices as a jumping off point to access the rest of a user’s network. Trane has not yet responded to requests for comment.

One big problem is that the ComfortLink thermostats come with credentials that have hardcoded passwords, Cisco found. By default, the accounts can be used to remotely log in to the system over “SSH,” an encrypted communications tunnel that many users allow through their firewall.

The two other bugs Cisco reported to Trane would allow attackers to install their own malicious software on vulnerable Trane devices, and use those systems to maintain a persistent presence on the victim’s local network.

On January 26, 2016, Trane patched the more serious of the flaws (the hardcoded credentials). According to Cisco, Trane patched the other two bugs part of a standard update released back in May 2015, but apparently without providing customers any indication that the update was critical to their protection efforts.

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Nov 15

The Lingering Mess from Default Insecurity

The Internet of Things is fast turning into the Internet-of-Things-We-Can’t-Afford. Almost daily now we are hearing about virtual shakedowns wherein attackers demand payment in Bitcoin virtual currency from a bank, e-retailer or online service. Those who don’t pay the ransom see their sites knocked offline in coordinated cyberattacks.  This story examines one contributor to the problem, and asks whether we should demand better security from ISPs, software and hardware makers.

armyThese attacks are fueled in part by an explosion in the number of Internet-connected things that are either misconfigured or shipped in a default insecure state. In June I wrote about robot networks or “botnets” of hacked Internet routers that were all made and shipped by networking firm Ubiquiti. Attackers were able to compromise the routers because Ubiquiti shipped them with remote administration switched on by default and protected by a factory default password pair (ubnt/ubnt or no password at all).

That story followed on reports from security firm Imperva (see Lax Security Opens the Door for Mass-Scale Hijacking of SOHO Routers) which found a botnet of tens of thousands of hijacked Ubiquiti routers being used to launch massive ransom-based denial-of-service attacks. Imperva discovered that those tens of thousands of hacked devices were so easy to remotely control that each router was being exploited by several different extortion groups or individual criminal actors. The company also found those actors used the hacked routers to continuously scan the Internet for more vulnerable routers.

Last week, researchers in Vienna, Austria-based security firm SEC Consult released data suggesting that there are more than 600,000 vulnerable Ubiquiti routers in use by Internet service providers (ISPs) and their customers. All are sitting on the Internet wide open and permitting anyone to abuse them for these digital shakedowns.

These vulnerable devices tend to coalesce in distinct geographical pools with deeper pools in countries with more ISPs that shipped them direct to customers without modification. SEC Consult said it found heavy concentrations of the exposed Ubiquiti devices in Brazil (480,000), Thailand (170,000) and the United States (77,000).

SEC Consult cautions that the actual number of vulnerable Ubiquiti systems may be closer to 1.1 million. Turns out, the devices ship with a cryptographic certificate embedded in the router’s built-in software (or “firmware”) that further weakens security on the devices and makes them trivial to discover on the open Internet. Indeed, the Censys Project, a scan-driven Internet search engine that allows anyone to quickly find hosts that use that certificate, shows exactly where each exposed router resides online.

The Imperva research from May 2015 touched a nerve among some Ubiquiti customers who thought the company should be doing more to help customers secure these routers. In a May 2015 discussion thread on the company’s support site, Ubiquiti’s vice president of technology applications Matt Harding said the router maker briefly disabled remote access on new devices, only to reverse that move after pushback from ISPs and other customers who wanted the feature turned back on.

In a statement sent to KrebsOnSecurity via email, Harding said the company doesn’t market its products to home users, and that it sells its products to industry professionals and ISPs.

“Because of this we originally shipped with the products’ configurations as flexible as possible and relied on the ISPs to secure their equipment appropriately,” he said. “Some ISPs use self-built provisioning scripts and intentionally locking down devices out of the box would interfere with the provisioning workflows of many customers.”

Harding said it’s common in the networking equipment industry to ship with a default password for initial use. While this may be true, it seems far less common that networking companies ship hardware that allows remote administration over the Internet by default. He added that beginning with firmware version 5.5.2 — originally released in August 2012 — Ubiquiti devices have included very persistent messaging in the user interface to remind customers to follow best practices and change their passwords.

“Any devices shipping since then would have this reminder and users would have to intentionally ignore it to install equipment with default credentials,” he wrote.  Harding noted that the company also provides a management platform that ISPs can use to change all default device passwords in bulk.

Ubiquiti's nag screen asking users to change the default credentials. The company's devices still ship with remote administration turned on.

Ubiquiti’s nag screen asking users to change the default credentials. The company’s devices still ship with remote administration turned on.

Continue reading →

May 15

Malware Evolution Calls for Actor Attribution?

What makes one novel strain of malicious software more dangerous or noteworthy than another? Is it the sheer capability and feature set of the new malware, or are these qualities meaningless without also considering the skills, intentions and ingenuity of the person wielding it? Most experts probably would say it’s important to consider attribution insofar as it is knowable, but it’s remarkable how seldom companies that regularly publish reports on the latest criminal innovations go the extra mile to add context about the crooks apparently involved in deploying those tools.


Perhaps with some new malware samples, the associated actor attribution data is too inconclusive to publish —particularly when corporate lawyers are involved and such findings are juxtaposed to facts about a new code sample that can be demonstrated empirically. Maybe in other cases, the company publishing the research privately has concerns that airing their findings on attribution will somehow cause people to take them or the newfound threat less seriously?

I doubt many who are familiar with my reporting will have trouble telling where I come down on this subject, which explains why I’m fascinated by a bit of digging done into the actor behind a new malware sample that recently received quite a bit of media attention. That threat, known variously as “Rombertik” and “Carbon Grabber,” is financial crimeware that gained media attention because of a curious feature: it was apparently designed to overwrite key sections of the hard drive, rendering the host system unbootable.

News about Rombertik’s destructive ways was first published by Cisco, which posited that the feature was a defense mechanism built into the malware to frustrate security researchers who might be trying to unlock its secrets. Other security firms published competing theories about the purpose of the destructive component of the malware. Some argued it was the malware author’s way of enforcing licensing agreements with his customers: Those who tried to use the malware on Web addresses or domains that were not authorized as part of the original sale would be considered in violation of the software agreement — their malware infrastructure thus exposed to (criminal) a copyright enforcement regime of the most unforgiving kind.

Incredibly, none of these companies bothered to look more closely at the clues rather clumsily left behind by the person apparently responsible for spreading the malware sample that prompted Cisco to blog about Rombertik in the first place. Had they done so, they might have discovered that this ultra-sophisticated new malware strain was unearthed precisely because it was being wielded by a relatively unsophisticated actor who seems to pose more of a threat to himself than to others.


As much as I would love to take credit for this research, that glory belongs to the community which has sprung up around ThreatConnect, a company that specializes in threat attribution with a special focus on crowdsourcing raw actor data across a large community of users.

In this case, ThreatConnect dug deeper into centozos[dot]org[dot]in, the control server used in the Rombertik sample featured in the original Cisco report. The Web site registration records for that domain lists an individual in Lagos, Nigeria who used the email address For those unfamiliar with Dispostable, it is a free, throwaway email service that allows anyone to send and receive email without supplying a password for the account. While this kind of service relieves the user of having to remember their password, it also allows anyone who knows the username to read all of the mail associated with that account.

KallySky's inbox at Dispostable.

KallySky’s inbox at Dispostable.

Continue reading →

Jan 15

Java Patch Plugs 19 Security Holes

Oracle this week released its quarterly patch update for Java, a widely-installed program that for most casual users has probably introduced more vulnerability than utility. If you have Java installed and require it for some application or Web site, it’s time to update it. If you’re not sure you have Java on your computer or are unsure why you still have it, read on for advice that could save you some security headaches down the road.

javamessOracle’s update brings Java 7 to Update 75 and Java 8 to Update 31, and fixes at least 19 security vulnerabilities in the program. Security vendor Qualys notes that 13 of those flaws are remotely exploitable, with a CVSS score of 10 (the most severe possible score).

Java 7 users should know that Oracle plans to start using the auto-update function built into the program to migrate those users to Java 8 this week.

According to a new report (PDF) from Cisco, online attacks that exploit Java vulnerabilities have decreased by 34 percent in the past year. Cisco reckons this is thanks to security improvements in the program, and to bad guys embracing new attack vectors — such Microsoft Silverlight flaws (if you’re a Netflix subscriber, you have Silverlight installed). Nevertheless, my message about Java will remain the same: Patch it, or pitch it. Continue reading →

Nov 14

Still Spamming After All These Years

A long trail of spam, dodgy domains and hijacked Internet addresses leads back to a 37-year-old junk email purveyor in San Diego who was the first alleged spammer to have been criminally prosecuted 13 years ago for blasting unsolicited commercial email.

atballLast month, security experts at Cisco blogged about spam samples caught by the company’s SpamCop service, which maintains a blacklist of known spam sources. When companies or Internet service providers learn that their address ranges are listed on spam blacklists, they generally get in touch with the blacklister to determine and remediate the cause for the listing (because usually at that point legitimate customers of the blacklisted company or ISP are having trouble sending email).

In this case, a hosting firm in Ireland reached out to Cisco to dispute being listed by SpamCop, insisting that it had no spammers on its networks. Upon investigating further, the hosting company discovered that the spam had indeed come from its Internet addresses, but that the addresses in question weren’t actually being hosted on its network. Rather, the addresses had been hijacked by a spam gang.

Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker (for another example of IP address hijacking, also known as “network identity theft,” check out this story I wrote for The Washington Post back in 2008).

So who’s benefitting from the Internet addresses wrested from the Irish hosting company? According to Cisco, the addresses were hijacked by Mega-Spred and Visnet, hosting providers in Bulgaria and Romania, respectively. But what of the spammers using this infrastructure?

One of the domains promoted in the spam that caused this ruckus — unmetegulzoo[dot]com — leads to some interesting clues. It was registered recently by a Mike Prescott in San Diego, to the email address That email was used to register more than 1,100 similarly spammy domains that were recently seen in junk email campaigns (for the complete list, see this CSV file compiled by

Enter Ron Guilmette, an avid anti-spam researcher who tracks spammer activity not by following clues in the junk email itself but by looking for patterns in the way spammers use the domains they’re advertising in their spam campaigns. Guilmette stumbled on the domains registered to the Mike Prescott address while digging through the registration records on more than 14,000 spam-advertised domains that were all using the same method (Guilmette asked to keep that telltale pattern out of this story so as not to tip off the spammers, but I have seen his research and it is solid).

persaud-fbOf the 5,000 or so domains in that bunch that have accessible WHOIS registration records, hundreds of them were registered to variations on the Mike Prescott email address and to locations in San Diego. Interestingly, one email address found in the registration records for hundreds of domains advertised in this spam campaign was registered to a “” in San Diego, which also happens to be the email address tied to the Facebook account for one Michael Persaud in San Diego.

Persaud is an unabashed bulk emailer who’s been sued by AOL, the San Diego District Attorney’s office and by anti-spam activists multiple times over the last 15 years. Reached via email, Persaud doesn’t deny registering the domains in question, and admits to sending unsolicited bulk email for a variety of “clients.” But Persaud claims that all of his spam campaigns adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act, the main anti-spam law in the United States — which prohibits the sending of spam that spoofs that sender’s address and which does not give recipients an easy way to opt out of receiving future such emails from that sender.

As for why his spam was observed coming from multiple hijacked Internet address ranges, Persaud said he had no idea. Continue reading →

Oct 14

Who’s Watching Your WebEx?

KrebsOnSecurity spent a good part of the past week working with Cisco to alert more than four dozen companies — many of them household names — about regular corporate WebEx conference meetings that lack passwords and are thus open to anyone who wants to listen in.

Department of Energy's WebEx meetings.

Department of Energy’s WebEx meetings.

At issue are recurring video- and audio conference-based meetings that companies make available to their employees via WebEx, a set of online conferencing tools run by Cisco. These services allow customers to password-protect meetings, but it was trivial to find dozens of major companies that do not follow this basic best practice and allow virtually anyone to join daily meetings about apparently internal discussions and planning sessions.

Many of the meetings that can be found by a cursory search within an organization’s “Events Center” listing on seem to be intended for public viewing, such as product demonstrations and presentations for prospective customers and clients. However, from there it is often easy to discover a host of other, more proprietary WebEx meetings simply by clicking through the daily and weekly meetings listed in each organization’s “Meeting Center” section on the site.

Some of the more interesting, non-password-protected recurring meetings I found include those from Charles Schwab, CSC, CBS, CVS, The U.S. Department of Energy, Fannie Mae, Jones Day, Orbitz, Paychex Services, and Union Pacific. Some entities even also allowed access to archived event recordings.

Cisco began reaching out to each of these companies about a week ago, and today released an all-customer alert (PDF) pointing customers to a consolidated best-practices document written for Cisco WebEx site administrators and users.

“In the first week of October, we were contacted by a leading security researcher,” Cisco wrote. “He showed us that some WebEx customer sites were publicly displaying meeting information online, including meeting Time, Topic, Host, and Duration. Some sites also included a ‘join meeting’ link.” Continue reading →

Jul 12

How to Break Into Security, Grossman Edition

I recently began publishing a series of advice columns for people who are interested in learning more about security as a craft or profession. For the third installment in this series, I interviewed Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer of WhiteHat Security, a Web application security firm.

A frequent speaker on a broad range of security topics, Grossman stressed the importance of coding, networking, and getting your hands dirty (in a clean way, of course).

BK: How did you get started in computer security?

Grossman: For me it was…I could hack stuff and I did it in my spare time and someone offered me a job — which was Yahoo. But before that, I was just a UNIX admin. I was thinking about this question a lot, and what occurred to me is that I don’t know too many people in infosec who chose infosec as a career. Most of the people who I know in this field didn’t go to college to be infosec pros, it just kind of happened. They followed opportunity.

BK: You might have seen that the last two experts I asked had somewhat different opinions on this question, but how important is it that someone interested in this field know how to code?

Grossman: It’s tough to give solid advice without knowing more about a person. For instance, are they interested in network security or application security? You can get by in IDS and firewall world and system patching without knowing any code; it’s fairly automated stuff from the product side. But with application security, it is absolutely mandatory that you know how to code and that you know software. So with Cisco gear, it’s much different from the work you do with Adobe software security. Infosec is a really big space, and you’re going to have to pick your niche, because no one is going to be able to bridge those gaps, at least effectively.

BK: So would you say hands-on experience is more important that formal security education and certifications?

Grossman: The question is are people being hired into entry level security positions straight out of school? I think somewhat, but that’s probably still pretty rare. There’s hardly anyone coming out of school with just computer security degrees. There are some, but we’re probably talking in the hundreds. I think the universities are just now within the last 3-5 years getting masters in computer security sciences off the ground. But there are not a lot of students in them.

BK:  What do you think is the most important qualification to be successful in the security space, regardless of a person’s background and experience level?

Grossman: The ones who can code almost always [fare] better. Infosec is about scalability, and application security is about scalability. And if you can understand code, you have a better likelihood of being able to understand how to scale your solution. On the defense side, we’re out-manned and outgunned constantly. It’s “us” versus “them,” and I don’t know how many of “them,” there are, but there’s going to be too few of “us “at all times.  So whatever your solution is or design criteria, you’re going to have to scale it. For instance, you can imagine Facebook…I’m not sure many security people they have, but…it’s going to be a tiny fraction of a percent of their user base, so they’re going to have to figure out how to scale their solutions so they can protect all those users.

Continue reading →

Oct 11

Chasing APT: Persistence Pays Off

The IT director for an international hedge fund received the bad news in a phone call from a stranger: Chinese hackers were running amok on the fund’s network. Not seeing evidence of the claimed intrusion, and unsure about the credibility of the caller, the IT director fired off an email to a reporter.

“So do you think this is legit, or is the guy trying to scare us?” the IT director asked in an email to, agreeing to discuss the incident if he and his company were not named. “He has sent me the logs for the connections to the infected server. I checked the firewall and am not seeing any active connections.”

The call, from Hermes Bojaxhi of Columbia, Md. based threat intelligence firm Cyber Engineering Services Inc. (CyberESI), was indeed legit, and a follow-up investigation by the hedge fund revealed that at least 15 PCs within the financial services company were compromised and were sending proprietary information to the attackers.

CyberESI knew about the incident because it was monitoring several hacked, legitimate servers that the attackers were using to siphon data from multiple victims. Bojaxhi said the hedge fund notification was one of several he made that week to Fortune 500 companies that also had been hacked and were communicating with the same compromised servers.

And it wasn’t his first call to the hedge fund.

“On that particular victim, I tried to reach out to them a month prior, but I was handed off to an administrative assistant,” Bojaxhi said. “We had 25 [victim organizations] to call that day. But when they popped back up on the radar a month later, I tried again.”

The hedge fund incident illustrates the complexities of defending against and detecting targeted attacks, even when victims are alerted to the problem by an outside party.

Joe Drissel, founder and CEO for CyberESI, said too many companies think of cyberattacks as automated threats that can be blocked with the proper mix of hardware and software.

“So many firms are stuck in a paradigm of drive-bys, not targeted attacks,” Drissel said. “There seems to be a real disconnect with what’s really happening on a daily basis. We’re trying to fight an asymmetrical war in a symmetrical way, sort of like we’re British soldiers [in Revolutionary War], all walking in line and they’re picking us off one by one. By the time we turn around and aim, they’re already gone.”

None of the first three Trojans installed on the hedge fund’s computers were initially detected by any of the 42 anti-virus products bundled into the scanning tools at

Drissel said victims that his company notifies sometimes mistakenly think his firm is involved in the attack, or that they’re somehow joking.

“One guy laughed and said, ‘Thank you for watching out for our company,’ but he didn’t call us back,” Drissel said of a conversation with a victim earlier this year, declining to name the victim. “We watched [the attackers] exfiltrate weapons systems data for the Defense Department out of their systems, and ended up having to text the same guy a file stolen off their servers. Fifteen minutes later, we got a call back from him, and they unplugged their entire corporate network.”

Some say that the attacks CyberESI notifies companies about — often referred to as the advanced persistent threat (APT) —  are over-hyped, and that the malware and exploits used in these incursions usually aren’t that sophisticated. APT attacks also are frequently associated with targets in the U.S. government and companies in the defense industry.

But most APT attackers tend to be only as sophisticated as they need to be, which often isn’t too sophisticated, said Gavin Reid, senior manager of Cisco’s computer security incident response team. Speaking at a conference in Warsaw, Poland this week, Reid said successful APT attacks need not use zero-day software flaws.

“People will say, ‘Well, this attack wasn’t very advanced, so it can’t be APT’, but I will tell you the folks who are behind some of this stuff are not going to use cool zero-day stuff if they can go in the underground economy and say, ‘Hey, I need [access to] an infected machine in this organization,’ and pay $50 in Paypal in order to get that,” Reid said.

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