Posts Tagged: P2P

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 →

Jan 16

Skype Now Hides Your Internet Address

Ne’er-do-wells have long abused a feature in Skype to glean the Internet address of other users. Indeed, many shady online services that can be hired to launch attacks aimed at knocking users offline bundle so-called “Skype resolvers” that let customers find a target’s last known location online. At long last, Microsoft says its latest version of Skype will hide user Internet addresses by default.

“Starting with this update to Skype and moving forward, your IP address will be kept hidden from Skype users,” Microsoft’s Skype team wrote in a blog post about the latest version, v. for most users. “This measure will help prevent individuals from obtaining a Skype ID and resolving to an IP address.”

A Skype resolver service in action.

A Skype resolver service in action.

Typically, these Skype resolvers are offered in tandem with “booter” or “stresser” services, online attack tools-for-hire than can be rented to launch denial-of-service attacks (most often against online gamers). The idea being that if you want to knock someone offline but you don’t know their Internet address, you can simply search on Skype to see if they have an account, and then use the resolvers to locate their IP. Thus far, the resolvers have worked regardless of any privacy settings the target user may have selected within the Skype program’s configuration panel. Continue reading →

Mar 12

Researchers Clobber Khelios Spam Botnet

Experts from across the security industry collaborated this week to quarantine more than 110,000 Microsoft Windows PCs that were infected with the Khelios worm, a contagion that forces infected PCs to blast out junk email advertising rogue Internet pharmacies.

Most botnets are relatively fragile: If security experts or law enforcement agencies seize the Internet servers used to control the zombie network, the crime machine eventually implodes. But Khelios (a.k.a. “Kelihos”) was built to withstand such attacks, employing a peer-to-peer structure not unlike that used by popular music and file-sharing sites to avoid takedown by the entertainment industry.

Update, 11:07 a.m. ET: Multiple sources are now reporting that within hours of the Khelios.B takedown, Khelios.C was compiled and launched. It appears to be spreading via Facebook.

Original post: The distributed nature of a P2P botnet allows the botmaster to orchestrate its activities by seeding a few machines in the network with encrypted instructions. Those systems then act as a catalyst, relaying the commands from one infected machine to another in rapid succession.

P2P botnets can be extremely resilient, but they typically posses a central weakness: They are only as strong as the encryption that scrambles the directives that the botmaster sends to infected machines. In other words,  anyone who manages to decipher the computer language needed to talk to the compromised systems can send them new instructions, such as commands to connect to a control server that is beyond the reach of the miscreant(s) who constructed the botnet.

That’s precisely the approach that security researchers used to seize control of Khelios. The caper was pulled off by a motley band of security experts from the Honeynet Project, Kaspersky, SecureWorks, and startup security firm CrowdStrike. The group figured out how to crack the encryption used to control systems infected with Khelios, and then sent a handful of machines new instructions to connect to a Web server that the researchers controlled.

That feat allowed the research team to wrest the botnet from the miscreants who created it, said Adam Meyers, director of intelligence for CrowdStrike. The hijacking of the botnet took only a few minutes, and when it was complete, the team had more than 110,000 PCs reporting to its surrogate control server.

“Once we injected that information in the P2P node, it was essentially propagating everything else for us,” Meyers said. “By taking advantage of the intricacies of the protocol, we were providing the most up-to-date information that all of hosts were spreading.”

The group is now working to notify ISPs where the infected hosts reside, in hopes of cleaning up the bot infestations. Meyers said that, for some unknown reason, the largest single geographic grouping of Khelios-infected systems – 25 percent — were located in Poland. U.S.-based ISPs were home to the second largest contingent of Khelios bots. Meyers said about 80 percent of the Khelios-infected systems they sinkholed were running Windows XP, an increasingly insecure operating system that Microsoft released more than a decade ago. Continue reading →