Posts Tagged: internet of things

Oct 16

Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage

A massive and sustained Internet attack that has caused outages and network congestion today for a large number of Web sites was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, new data suggests.

Earlier today cyber criminals began training their attack cannons on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company that provides critical technology services to some of the Internet’s top destinations. The attack began creating problems for Internet users reaching an array of sites, including Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix.


A depiction of the outages caused by today’s attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source:

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

“At least one Mirai [control server] issued an attack command to hit Dyn,” Nixon said. “Some people are theorizing that there were multiple botnets involved here. What we can say is that we’ve seen a Mirai botnet participating in the attack.”

As I noted earlier this month in Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess, many of these products from XiongMai and other makers of inexpensive, mass-produced IoT devices are essentially unfixable, and will remain a danger to others unless and until they are completely unplugged from the Internet. Continue reading →

Oct 16

DDoS on Dyn Impacts Twitter, Spotify, Reddit

Criminals this morning massively attacked Dyn, a company that provides core Internet services for Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Reddit and a host of other sites, causing outages and slowness for many of Dyn’s customers.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

In a statement, Dyn said that this morning, October 21, Dyn received a global distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on its DNS infrastructure on the east coast starting at around 7:10 a.m. ET (11:10 UTC).

“DNS traffic resolved from east coast name server locations are experiencing a service interruption during this time. Updates will be posted as information becomes available,” the company wrote.

DYN encouraged customers with concerns to check the company’s status page for updates and to reach out to its technical support team.

A DDoS is when crooks use a large number of hacked or ill-configured systems to flood a target site with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors.

DNS refers to Domain Name System services. DNS is an essential component of all Web sites, responsible for translating human-friendly Web site names like “” into numeric, machine-readable Internet addresses. Anytime you send an e-mail or browse a Web site, your machine is sending a DNS look-up request to your Internet service provider to help route the traffic.


The attack on DYN comes just hours after DYN researcher Doug Madory presented a talk on DDoS attacks in Dallas, Texas at a meeting of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). Madory’s talk — available here on — delved deeper into research that he and I teamed up on to produce the data behind the story DDoS Mitigation Firm Has History of Hijacks. Continue reading →

Oct 16

IoT Devices as Proxies for Cybercrime

Multiple stories published here over the past few weeks have examined the disruptive power of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices such as routers, IP cameras and digital video recorders. This post looks at how crooks are using hacked IoT devices as proxies to hide their true location online as they engage in a variety of other types of cybercriminal activity — from frequenting underground forums to credit card and tax refund fraud.

networktechniciansRecently, I heard from a cybersecurity researcher who’d created a virtual “honeypot” environment designed to simulate hackable IoT devices. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said his honeypot soon began seeing traffic destined for Asus and Linksys routers running default credentials. When he examined what that traffic was designed to do, he found his honeypot systems were being told to download a piece of malware from a destination on the Web.

My source grabbed a copy of the malware, analyzed it, and discovered it had two basic functions: To announce to a set of Internet addresses hard-coded in the malware a registration “I’m here” beacon; and to listen for incoming commands, such as scanning for new vulnerable hosts or running additional malware. He then wrote a script to simulate the hourly “I’m here” beacons, interpret any “download” commands, and then execute the download and “run” commands.

The researcher found that the malware being pushed to his honeypot system was designed to turn his faux infected router into a “SOCKS proxy server,” essentially a host designed to route traffic between a client and a server. Most often, SOCKS proxies are used to anonymize communications because they can help obfuscate the true origin of the client that is using the SOCKS server.


When he realized how his system was being used, my source fired up several more virtual honeypots, and repeated the process. Employing a custom tool that allows the user to intercept (a.k.a. “man-in-the-middle”) encrypted SSL traffic, the researcher was able to collect the underlying encrypted data passing through his SOCKS servers and decrypt it.

What he observed was that all of the systems were being used for a variety of badness, from proxying Web traffic destined for cybercrime forums to testing stolen credit cards at merchant Web sites. Further study of the malware files and the traffic beacons emanating from the honeypot systems indicated his honeypots were being marketed on a Web-based criminal service that sells access to SOCKS proxies in exchange for Bitcoin.

Unfortunately, this type of criminal proxying is hardly new. Crooks have been using hacked PCs to proxy their traffic for eons. KrebsOnSecurity has featured numerous stories about cybercrime services that sell access to hacked computers as a means of helping thieves anonymize their nefarious activities online. Continue reading →

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, 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.” Continue reading →

Sep 16

The Democratization of Censorship

John Gilmore, an American entrepreneur and civil libertarian, once famously quipped that “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” This notion undoubtedly rings true for those who see national governments as the principal threats to free speech.

However, events of the past week have convinced me that one of the fastest-growing censorship threats on the Internet today comes not from nation-states, but from super-empowered individuals who have been quietly building extremely potent cyber weapons with transnational reach.


More than 20 years after Gilmore first coined that turn of phrase, his most notable quotable has effectively been inverted — “Censorship can in fact route around the Internet.” The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity. I call this rather unwelcome and hostile development the “The Democratization of Censorship.”

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this unsettling conclusion. As many of you know, my site was taken offline for the better part of this week. The outage came in the wake of a historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which hurled so much junk traffic at that my DDoS protection provider Akamai chose to unmoor my site from its protective harbor.

Let me be clear: I do not fault Akamai for their decision. I was a pro bono customer from the start, and Akamai and its sister company Prolexic have stood by me through countless attacks over the past four years. It just so happened that this last siege was nearly twice the size of the next-largest attack they had ever seen before. Once it became evident that the assault was beginning to cause problems for the company’s paying customers, they explained that the choice to let my site go was a business decision, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, Akamai rather abruptly informed me I had until 6 p.m. that very same day — roughly two hours later — to make arrangements for migrating off their network. My main concern at the time was making sure my hosting provider wasn’t going to bear the brunt of the attack when the shields fell. To ensure that absolutely would not happen, I asked Akamai to redirect my site to — effectively relegating all traffic destined for into a giant black hole.

Today, I am happy to report that the site is back up — this time under Project Shield, a free program run by Google to help protect journalists from online censorship. And make no mistake, DDoS attacks — particularly those the size of the assault that hit my site this week — are uniquely effective weapons for stomping on free speech, for reasons I’ll explore in this post.

Google's Project Shield is now protecting

Google’s Project Shield is now protecting

Why do I speak of DDoS attacks as a form of censorship? Quite simply because the economics of mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks do not bode well for protecting the individual user, to say nothing of independent journalists.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Akamai executives said the attack — if sustained — likely would have cost the company millions of dollars. In the hours and days following my site going offline, I spoke with multiple DDoS mitigation firms. One offered to host KrebsOnSecurity for two weeks at no charge, but after that they said the same kind of protection I had under Akamai would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 per year.

Ask yourself how many independent journalists could possibly afford that kind of protection money? A number of other providers offered to help, but it was clear that they did not have the muscle to be able to withstand such massive attacks.

I’ve been toying with the idea of forming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization — ‘The Center for the Defense of Internet Journalism’, if you will — to assist Internet journalists with obtaining the kind of protection they may need when they become the targets of attacks like the one that hit my site.  Maybe a Kickstarter campaign, along with donations from well-known charitable organizations, could get the ball rolling.  It’s food for thought. Continue reading →

Feb 16

This is Why People Fear the ‘Internet of Things’

Imagine buying an internet-enabled surveillance camera, network attached storage device, or home automation gizmo, only to find that it secretly and constantly phones home to a vast peer-to-peer (P2P) network run by the Chinese manufacturer of the hardware. Now imagine that the geek gear you bought doesn’t actually let you block this P2P communication without some serious networking expertise or hardware surgery that few users would attempt.

The FI9286P, a Foscam camera that includes P2P communication by default.

The FI9286P, a Foscam camera that includes P2P communication by default.

This is the nightmare “Internet of Things” (IoT) scenario for any system administrator: The IP cameras that you bought to secure your physical space suddenly turn into a vast cloud network designed to share your pictures and videos far and wide. The best part? It’s all plug-and-play, no configuration necessary!

I first became aware of this bizarre experiment in how not to do IoT last week when a reader sent a link to a lengthy discussion thread on the support forum for Foscam, a Chinese firm that makes and sells security cameras. The thread was started by a Foscam user who noticed his IP camera was noisily and incessantly calling out to more than a dozen online hosts in almost as many countries.

Turns out, this Focscam camera was one of several newer models the company makes that comes with peer-to-peer networking capabilities baked in. This fact is not exactly spelled out for the user (although some of the models listed do say “P2P” in the product name, others do not).

But the bigger issue with these P2P -based cameras is that while the user interface for the camera has a setting to disable P2P traffic (it is enabled by default), Foscam admits that disabling the P2P option doesn’t actually do anything to stop the device from seeking out other P2P hosts online (see screenshot below).

This is a concern because the P2P function built into Foscam P2P cameras is designed to punch through firewalls and can’t be switched off without applying a firmware update plus an additional patch that the company only released after repeated pleas from users on its support forum.

Yeah, this setting doesn't work. P2P is still enabled even after you uncheck the box.

Yeah, this setting doesn’t work. P2P is still enabled even after you uncheck the box.

One of the many hosts that Foscam users reported seeing in their firewall logs was, a domain registered to Chinese communications firm ThroughTek Co., Ltd. Turns out, this domain has shown up in firewall logs for a number of other curious tinkerers who cared to take a closer look at what their network attached storage and home automation toys were doing on their network.

In January 2015, a contributing writer for the threat-tracking SANS Internet Storm Center wrote in IoT: The Rise of the Machines that he found the same domain called out in network traffic generated by a Maginon SmartPlug he’d purchased (smart plugs are power receptacles into which you plug lights and other appliances you may wish to control remotely).

What is the IOTC Plaform? According to ThroughTek, it’s a service developed to establish P2P communications between devices.

“I read the documentation provided with the device as well as all the website pages and there is no mention of this service,” wrote Xavier Mertens, an incident handler and blogger for SANS. “Manufacturers should include some technical documentation about the network requirements (ex: to download firmware updates).”

In another instance from May 2015, this blogger noted similar communications traffic emanating from a digital video recorder (DVR) device that’s sold in tandem with Internet-enabled surveillance cameras made by a company called Swann.

Likewise, postings from Dec. 2014 on the QNAP network attached storage (NAS) user forum indicate that some QNAP customers discovered mysterious traffic to and other Internet address requests that also were found in the Swann and Smart Plug traffic.

What do all of these things have in common? A visit to ThroughTek’s Web lists several “case studies” for its products, including Swann, QNAP and a home automation company based in Taiwan called AboCom.

ThroughTek did not respond to requests for comment. A ThroughTek press release from October 2015 announced that the company’s P2P network — which it calls the Kalay Network — had grown to support more than seven million connected devices and 100 million “IoT connections.”

I contacted Foscam to better understand the company’s relationship to ThroughTek, and to learn just how many Foscam devices now ship with ThroughTek’s built-in, always-on P2P technology. Foscam declined to say how many different models bundled the P2P technology, but it’s at least a dozen by my count of the models mentioned in the Foscam user manual and discussion thread. 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.

Continue reading →