BrickerBot: How Your Toaster Can Threaten National Security
Sounds a bit loony, doesn’t it? How can a sweet little toaster threaten the Internet all over the country? Ridiculous!
But, with modern gadgets and appliances, you are never sure whether the tables turn into kangaroos behind your back or not.
Here’s the list of things in your house that are likely to have Internet access via Wi-Fi, if they are of latest generations:
- smart bulb
- weather station
- home climate system
- home surveillance system
- smart TV
- smart TV box
- Wi-Fi router
- printer / scanner
- video camera
They all run Linux based operation systems, and they all have access to the Web. This part of the Internet is called the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. Most of them have a sticker on them, with the login and password set at the factory. Most users just leave it be. They seem to be sure that the manufacturers’ databases of logins and passwords will never leak. But, they can’t be more wrong. Passwords can leak, they can be restored if the criminals deduct the algorithm that the manufacturers used to create them.
Then, the malware approaches the device and can hack the firmware. The anti-virus software of today is incapable of protecting your webcam or smart bulb. Andrew McGill, a reporter at The Atlantic, proved just how quick the internet of things can be hacked. The experiment took place just last year, right after the Mirai botnet attack. (We’ll tell about that a bit later).
So, McGill built a virtual Internet-connected toaster, put it online and waited for the hackers’ first attack. You see, he didn’t doubt it would happen, he just wanted to know how long would it take. His guess was a week, or perhaps several days. But the first attack took place within 41 minutes! And the second attack began in less than 10 minutes after that. Then, the attacks repeated constantly day in and day out. The McGill’s toaster wasn’t connected to the home network and didn’t provide any access to the world network, so these attempts caused no harm. But, though futile, they were persistent. The poor little brave toaster was attacked by computer scripts, which prowl the net looking for such insecure devices.
What for? Hacked toasters, webcams and smart TV-boxes, can be organized in a vast botnet in order to barrage the sites with data packets, until they’re brought down. The notorious Mirai botnet did just that last year, bringing down Twitter and other popular internet resources for several hours. The data routes were clogged and Internet was down in many parts of the country. Normally, house appliances and gadgets don’t need Twitter, of course, but hackers used them as thousands of tiny computers in order to attack the web. And an army of toaster hackers can ruin the control system of the city water pipelines, or the mail server if they were told to.
Malware bots are another threat for the Internet community, and they will continue to grow in number. Now, we have met the BrickerBot. It’s malicious enough for Homeland security to feel the need to issue a strict warning. The botnet was discovered by Radware company, which specifically hunts malware of this kind. They use the same method McGill did, or rather it was Andrew McGill, who copied them. The devices that imitate smart toasters, webcams and suchlike, are called honeypots. On April 5, 2017 Radware detected an attack on their honeypots that went on for four days.
The malware cripples the firmware in order to cause Permanent Denial of Service, also known as PDoS. The infected device cannot respond to any commands, and in many cases the firmware cannot be restored even after the reinstall. In other words, the gadget ‘bricks’, hence the malware nickname – BrickerBot.
Radware detected 1,895 PDoS from BrickerBot 1 and BrickerBot 2. The locations of the culprits were impossible to discover, as they used the high anonymous Tor network. The malware severely corrupts the firmware and wipes the storage of the attacked device clean. But unlike the Mirai, BrickerBot doesn’t try to bring down the whole Web, it confines to compromising the devices and ruining home networks and systems.
Losing a collection of family recipes or a webcam hurts enough, but imagine BrickerBot wiping clean your video surveillance system, or smart home system? This could be a disaster. Can a general user oppose such a threat?
Yes. There are two simple steps toward greater security:
- CHANGE THE FACTORY SET PASSWORD.
- DISABLE TELNET IN SETTINGS.
Changing the password and login (if there’s any) is critical! Do not use your birth date or those of your family members. Do not use your cell phone number, your name or middle name, or even your dog’s nickname. There are a lot of offline and on-line password generators. A good password must be no shorter than 8 digits, contain letters (but not meaningful words!), digits and symbols like [ or * at random.
To disable the telnet port, consult your device manual. And, if you can, restrain from buying smart toasters and fridges. Just to be on the safe side.
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