Mirai, BrickerBot, Hajime Attack a Common IoT Weakness

This blog post was written by Rick Simon.

We know that devices in the Internet of Things make enticing targets for attack. They are often insecure and can act as open windows into trusted networks. Cybercriminals are capitalizing on that more and more each day, gathering hundreds of thousands of insecure IoT devices into giant botnets. Remember what happened last fall when Mirai malware conducted the largest DDoS attack we have seen so far. The downstream effect of that attack was that millions of people could not reach such popular sites as Twitter, Spotify, Box, The New York Times, and Airbnb.

Now, two new attacks targeting IoT devices have emerged. The BrickerBot malware has been infecting and “bricking” poorly secured IoT devices. It is said that the BrickerBot operator is making these devices unusable to keep Mirai from infecting the same devices. Apparently, this attacker may be a modern-day vigilante.

The second attack is based on malware called Hajime. It appears to use its power for good instead of evil, actually securing the IoT devices it infects to protect them from more malicious attacks like Mirai. However, because the devices have been infected by Hajime, there is nothing stopping the Hajime botnet operator from changing their objectives.

What do these attacks have in common? They all take advantage of poor network and credential management. In these attacks, the malware scans for open Telnet or SSH ports, discovers IoT devices behind them, performs brute-force attacks using a dictionary of common default usernames and passwords, and then looks for ways to send the malware payload. Once infected, each malware family has different objectives, as we discussed above.

Given that these IoT device attacks follow the same attack sequence, why don’t IoT device makers simply address their weaknesses? And if they address the problems of poor network and credential management, will that solve the IoT device security problem once and for all?

We offered an answer to the first question in the McAfee Labs 2017 Threats Predictions report. In that report, we said that in their drive to be first to market with certain types of IoT devices, developers focus on features designed to capture early adopters. Unfortunately, sound security is usually not at the top of the list of must-have features by that class of buyers. Further, the use of poorly written, insecure third-party code libraries can exacerbate the problem. So, until the IoT device land rush subsides, we will probably continue to see obvious security weaknesses.

Addressing the problems of poor network and credential management will solve only the IoT device security weaknesses being exploited today. There will be other exploited weaknesses tomorrow.

The right way to look at security in an IoT device is by using an assist such as the OWASP IoT Attack Surface model. From an attacker’s point of view, an IoT device is very similar to any other computer system and should be assessed for security just as with other systems. I created this previously unpublished image last year to make the point:

This is the toaster attack surface!

In fact, when our threat research team examines an IoT device for security weaknesses, they use the OWASP model for guidance. If IoT device makers simply examined their products during development through an attacker’s lens, they could reduce the number of security weaknesses significantly.

What can you do today to mitigate IoT device security weaknesses? Some weaknesses unfortunately fall into the category of acceptable risk. Other weaknesses, however, can be addressed. Check out the Solution Brief “Secure IoT Devices to Protect Against Attacks” to learn more. In that brief, we offer actionable policies and procedures for securing IoT devices. We also provide detailed advice on how McAfee products can protect systems and networks from IoT device attacks.

To stay up to date on all cybersecurity news, follow @McAfee and @McAfee_Labs.

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