A recent DDoS attack staged against a brick-and-mortar jewelry store highlights just how devastating the negligence of IoT security can become. The attack, as reported by SC Magazine, involved a 35,000 HTTP request per second flood carried out by an IoT botnet of more than 25,000 compromised CCTV cameras scattered across the entire globe, causing the shop’s servers to go down.
As detailed by cybersecurity firm Succuri, the attack is unusual because it has only used IoT devices and also because of its uncommonly lengthy duration. After the initial wave, when the servers were brought back online, a second, bigger attack, with a 50k HTTP RPS, was conducted, which lasted for several days.
A separate report by Computer Weekly details how the LizardStresser malware is creating IoT botnets by exploiting vulnerable devices, and is mounting massive 400 gigabits-per-second DDoS attacks without using amplification techniques.
This is just a glimpse of the opportunities that the Internet of Insecure Things is providing for malicious actors who are always looking for new ways to break into networks to defraud organizations of their cash and valuable assets, or to harm opponents and competitors.
You’ve been warned about IoT botnets before
While the rise in DDoS attacks based on IoT botnets is new, it wasn’t unexpected. In fact, after 2015 became the year of proof-of-concept attacks against the Internet of Things, it had been predicted that IoT devices would become a very attractive target for bot herders in 2016.
As Dark Reading’s Ericka Chickowski said in this post, “2016 is going to be the year that attackers make a concerted effort to turn the Internet of Things (IoT) into the Botnet of Things.”
Researchers from Incapsula first warned about IoT botnets last year after detailing an attack they discovered which they tracked back to CCTV cameras at a retail store close to their office. And with insecure IoT devices becoming connected to the internet at a chaotic pace, hackers have good reason to give up general purpose computing devices, such as desktop and laptop computers, to go after the easier targets.
What makes IoT device such easy prey for botnet malware?
There are many reasons that IoT devices – and in this case CCTVs – make very attractive targets for bot herders. As Igal Zeifman, senior digital strategist from Imperva, detailed in the Incapsula blog post, “Security cameras are among the most prevalent and least protected IoT devices. Moreover, many have high upload connections, meant to support their remote streaming functionality.”
What makes it easy to conscript CCTVs – and other IoT devices for that matter – into botnets? According to Chris Hodson, CISO for EMEA region at cloud security company Zscaler, who spoke with SC Magazine, it’s because the security development lifecycle for IoT devices is often expedited or bypassed due to strict deadlines around time to market or the cost of the hardware.
This is a point that I’ve also raised on several occasions: one of the fundamental problems with IoT security is that the developers often come from an unconnected background, such as embedded systems, which means they have the knowhow to provide functionality but aren’t versed in the principles to write secure code for connected environments. In other cases, security is advertently neglected for the sake of meeting release deadlines of cost requirements.
Researchers at Arbor Networks summed up the prevalence of IoT botnet malware in four reasons:
- The operating system of IoT devices is usually a stripped-down version of Linux, which means malware can be easily compiled for the target architecture.
- IoT devices usually have full access to internet and aren’t subject to bandwidth limitations or filtering – which is very true in the case of CCTVs.
- Minimal operating systems running on IoT devices don’t leave much room for security features such as auditing, which lets attackers compromise and exploit the devices without leaving trace.
- There’s a lot of hardware and software reuse in IoT development, which means a lot of security-critical components become shared between devices. (Just take a look at “House of Keys” research by SEC Consult, which shows how the reuse HTTPS certificates and SSH keys endangers millions of devices.)
The part that concerns consumers is the carelessness in dealing with IoT device security. Since IoT devices aren’t as personal as, say, smartphones or PCs, users tend to “install and forget” IoT devices. Bad practices such as not changing passwords, or worse, leaving devices installed with factory-default passwords are epidemic in IoT ecosystems, which makes it very easy to find administrative access to the device and install IoT botnet malware into it.
What can be done about the IoT botnets?
I just wanted to raise the challenge of IoT botnets in this post. The response will be the subject of a future article. But very briefly, a lot can be done to mitigate the threat of IoT botnets in the future. For one thing, security should become a major factor in IoT development. As Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist at prpl foundation told SC, “The very fact that patching isn’t high on the priority list for admins is testament to why security in devices like CCTV cameras needs to be ‘baked in’ at the chip or hardware layer.”
We’ve already seen the efficiency of hardware security in the headaches that Apple gave the FBI in the San Bernardino iPhone case. Having devices that are secure at the hardware level will go a long way into hardening our defenses against exploits, including IoT botnets.
Moreover, we should also recognize that some IoT devices can’t be secured at the device level and therefore must be secured at the network level. Deploying network security solutions, like the ones I’ve described in this TNW article can help a lot in providing security against IoT botnets for devices that are inherently insecure.
These are just two tips at fighting back against the rising tide of IoT botnets. I’m sure that a lot of you readers out there have brilliant ideas and innovations that can help deal with this situation. Since I’ll be writing about this very soon, I’m eager to know what you’re doing to deal with the IoT botnet threat. Leave a comment, or better yet contact me, to share your ideas.
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