JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

'This definitely falls into the scary category': researchers warn of 50 million exposed devices

Date

Jim Finkle

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

<em></em>

Bugs in widely used networking technology expose tens of millions of personal computers, printers and storage drives to attack by hackers over the regular internet, researchers with a security software maker said.

The problem lies in computer routers and other networking equipment that use a commonly employed standard known as Universal Plug and Play or UPnP. UPnP makes it easy for networks to identify and communicate with equipment, reducing the amount of work it takes to set up networks.

Security software maker Rapid7 said in a white paper released on Tuesday in the US that it discovered between 40 million and 50 million devices that were vulnerable to attack due to three separate sets of problems that the firm's researchers have identified with the UPnP standard.

The long list of devices includes products from manufacturers including Belkin, D-Link, Cisco's Linksys division and Netgear.

Representatives for Belkin, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear could not be reached for comment on Monday evening US time.

Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of security software firm Veracode, said he believed that publication of Rapid7's findings would draw widespread attention to the still emerging area of UPnP security, prompting other security researchers to search for more bugs in UPnP.

"This definitely falls into the scary category," said Wysopal, who reviewed Rapid7's findings ahead of their publication. "There is going to be a lot more research on this. And the follow-on research could be a lot scarier."

Rapid7 has privately alerted electronics makers about the problem through the CERT Coordination Centre, a group at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute that helps researchers report vulnerabilities to affected companies.

"This is the most pervasive bug I've ever seen," said HD Moore, chief technology officer for Rapid7. He discussed the research with Reuters late on Monday US time.

Moore, who created a widely used platform known as Metasploit that allows security experts to simulate network attacks, said that he expected CERT to release a public warning about the flaw on Tuesday. A spokesman for the CERT Coordination Centre declined to comment.

A source with a networking equipment maker confirmed they had been alerted that CERT would issue an advisory on Tuesday and that companies were preparing to respond.

Taking control

The flaws could allow hackers to access confidential files, steal passwords, take full control over PCs as well as remotely access devices such as webcams, printers and security systems, according to Rapid7.

Moore said that there were bugs in most of the devices he tested and that device manufacturers will need to release software updates to remedy the problems.

He said that is unlikely to happen quickly.

In the meantime, he advised computer users to quickly use a free tool released by Rapid7 to identify vulnerable gear, then disable the UPnP functionality in that equipment.

Moore said hackers have not widely exploited the UPnP vulnerabilities to launch attacks, but both Moore and Wysopal expected they may start to do so after the findings are publicized.

Still, Moore said he decided to disclose the flaws in a bid to pressure equipment makers to fix the bugs and generally pay more attention to security.

People who own devices with UPnP enabled may not be aware of it because new routers, printers, media servers, web cameras, storage drives and "smart" or web-connected TVs are often shipped with that functionality turned on by default.

"You can't stay silent about something like this," he said. "These devices seem to have had the same level of core security for decades. Nobody seems to really care about them."

Veracode's Wysopal said that some hackers have likely already exploited the flaws to launch attacks, but in relatively small numbers, choosing victims one at a time.

"If they are going after executives and government officials, then they will probably look for their home networks and exploit this vulnerability," he said.

Rapid7 is advising businesses and consumers alike to disable UPnP in devices that they suspect may be vulnerable to attack. The firm has released a tool to help identify those devices on its website.

Reuters

21 comments so far

  • Love it when the security boys talk it up! The fact that we've yet to see any evidence of this alleged 'scary' security flaw in what is a widely used and fairly mature standard should evince a modicum of skepticism. This article swallows the security panic line hook, line and sinker.

    Commenter
    Patrickb
    Date and time
    January 30, 2013, 12:01AM
    • Yep. I'm gonna rush right out and buy a couple more of them there security packages they want us all to have, and the daily updates of course.

      Commenter
      The Other Guy
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 10:25PM
  • A few days ago you scare people with Java and now you are pushing a scan tool that requires Java in order to work. Honestly, one day it's a big scary baddie turned savior tomorrow. BTW, my antivirus was unhappy about the suggested download file too.

    Commenter
    What?
    Date and time
    January 30, 2013, 6:25AM
    • So a security scan tool relies on Java, not known for being secure itself.
      Fail on a massive scale.
      Java hasn't been on my machine for some time now, so I must be secure, right?

      Commenter
      Whatduh!
      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 7:26AM
      • Not only do you have to install the very insecure Java to run the scan, you also have to provide a whole bunch of your personal details before it'll run.

        Commenter
        JohnBY
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        January 30, 2013, 8:30AM
        • Can't believe the scan needs Java to run... epic fail, won't be running that one then!

          Commenter
          TG
          Date and time
          January 30, 2013, 8:40AM
          • Stop thinking about it or try to understand it. Just buy their product and be safe.

            I've noticed UPnP open ports on my router before and it opens it for programs within your private network. I believe it was a fool proof feature for users bacause it will increase the chance of the product working when set up by non-technical users. I thought, why then, did I bother putting up a firewall and work out which ports I need open for the programs that I use? So I disabled UPnP.

            So I suspect your PC has to be vulnerable in the first place to open up these ports for other malicious code to come in. A telnet session that looks like it is coming from within the private network or enable remote administration from the attacking PC will give you all the access you need.

            I

            Commenter
            Knee Jerk
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            January 30, 2013, 8:41AM
            • There will be this Y2k bug yada yada yada

              Commenter
              Tony
              Date and time
              January 30, 2013, 9:28AM
              • Pray tell where is the list of these suposide compromised devices?

                That might actually be of help Rapid 7, to those in danger instead of insisting people use a security tool that does who knows what!

                Commenter
                Hmm I wonder
                Date and time
                January 30, 2013, 9:30AM
                • The 'scan tool' is useless. Windows only. Fail. Requires Java. Fail...

                  Commenter
                  Robbie
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  January 30, 2013, 9:48AM

                  More comments

                  Make a comment

                  You are logged in as [Logout]

                  All information entered below may be published.

                  Error: Please enter your screen name.

                  Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

                  Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

                  Error: Please enter your comment.

                  Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

                  Post to

                  You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

                  Thank you

                  Your comment has been submitted for approval.

                  Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

                  This Column is advertiser content
                  Advertisement
                  Featured advertisers
                  Advertisement