Security Sidebar: Your Device Just Attacked Someone…And You Didn’t Even Know It

Large scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are no joke, and attackers can use them to inflict substantial damage to just about any target they want. Depending on the target, the result of a DDoS attack could run the gamut of a simple pain in the neck because your website just went down to a significant financial loss for major corporations and customers. But regardless, these attacks are serious business, and the bad news is that they are becoming both easier to launch and more devastating to endure. Large-scale DDoS attacks will utilize a network of unsuspecting devices to inflict pain on their target. This network of unsuspecting devices is known as a Botnet.

In order to build a Botnet, an attacker needs to gain access to many different Internet-connected devices. Back in the day, that was a tough job because there weren’t very many Internet-connected devices to go around. But today? No problem. Just think about all the devices that are Internet-connected. You probably own at least 5 of them yourself (smart phone, smart TV, computer, tablet, etc). With the proliferation of these Internet-connected devices, building a Botnet is easier now than ever before.

Botnets are created by scanning the Internet for vulnerable devices in order to install malware on a device that will be used later to help launch the attack. The scanning typically happens one of two ways. The first is to port scan for specific servers and attempt to gain access by brute force guessing the username and password of the device. The second uses external scanners to find new bots and, in some cases, botnet servers that already control a multitude of bots. If you can gain control of a botnet server, then you gain control of all the bots it controls. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of building your own botnet, then you can always rent one out from one of many DDoS providers who will DDoS a target for you. Either way, it’s a powerful weapon.

So, when these botnets are created or expanded, which vulnerable devices should they look for? I guess it doesn’t significantly matter what the device is as long as it has the capability to help launch the attack. That said, you have to wonder how many vulnerable devices are out there to be used in one of these botnets. No one knows the exact number of vulnerable devices (and it depends on the vulnerability being exploited as to which device is vulnerable), but suffice it to say, the explosion of Internet-connected devices have made it extremely easy to find millions of vulnerable devices. The truth is, attackers don’t need a desktop or laptop computer to launch an attack anymore. Now, they can go after devices like your home router, DVR, or IP camera to launch an attack. How many times do you change the default username/password on your home router? Or your IP camera? Or what about another device that gets shipped from the manufacturer with preloaded credentials that you don’t even have the ability to change? You can see how easy it is to find vulnerable devices.

Security researcher and advocate Brian Krebs knows all too well about attacks from botnets. Last month, his site was hit by a DDoS attack that launched over 620 Gbps at his site. The site was taken down for the better part of a week. He had a DDoS protection provider in place, but when 620 Gbps of traffic is hurled at one target, it’s extremely difficult for a DDoS protection provider to keep up. In the end, the provider said they couldn’t handle it and they told him he had to find another provider to protect his site. This attack was almost double the size of the largest attack they had ever seen…and they are a big, capable DDoS protection provider. Krebs has since turned to Google and their new Project Shield program for protection. As for the attack, Krebs said “the huge assault this week on my site appears to have been launched almost exclusively by a very large botnet of hacked devices.”

Brian Krebs is certainly not the only target of a massive DDoS attack. I could spend hours listing known DDoS attacks and still not cover them all. These things are real, and they are serious. To add insult to injury, many experts believe that people are actively researching ways to use these massive botnets to take down the Internet itself. Once upon a time, only well-funded nation states had the resources to launch massive attacks against a given enemy. That’s no longer the case. Certainly, a well-funded nation state could launch a devastating attack against a target…but so could the lowly owner of the massive botnet. Could someone literally take down the Internet? And, will your unsuspecting device help do it?

Published Oct 03, 2016
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