SecurityBrief Asia logo
Asia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Strategy for cyber crime: own the routers, own the Internet

FYI, this story is more than a year old

Mobile devices and smart TVs controlled by cyber criminals make scary headlines. They have received a high profile in media coverage of the recent WikiLeaks CIA data dump. Yet lost in the leaks is something far scarier – the possibility that routers can be owned.

A recent blog from Cisco highlights the real issues (Cisco's words in italics):

  • Malware exists that seems to target different types and families of Cisco devices, including multiple router and switches families.
  • The malware, once installed on a Cisco device, seem to provide a range of capabilities: data collection, data exfiltration, command execution with administrative privileges (and without any logging of such commands ever been executed), HTML traffic redirection, manipulation and modification (insertion of HTML code on web pages), DNS poisoning, covert tunnelling and others.
  • The malware authors have spent significant time making sure the tools, once installed, attempt to remain hidden from detection and forensic analysis on the device itself.
  • It would also seem a malware author expends significant resources on quality assurance testing in order, it seems, to make sure that once installed the malware will not cause the device to crash or misbehave.

The key takeaway in this post (and from the Vault 7 leak overall) is that our communications systems are not secure. It doesn't matter if your smart TV is vulnerable when an attacker can control your network. If an attacker can control your routing tables and DNS, he/she can gain access to far more than your TV and mobile phone. Those devices are just the beginning.

Let's break these capabilities down and shine a spotlight on each one:

Data Collection

If I were an intelligence agency, I would want to do this all the time. If I can control a router or a switch, I can span ports and forward traffic. I can sniff without being found to do raw packet dumps. I can learn unencrypted passwords, browsing behaviours and interests, and conduct passive vulnerability assessments for exploitation, among many other things.

Data Exfiltration

Covert channels for data exfiltration are among the goals of any capable attacker. This capability makes incident response and forensics almost impossible. It would give someone the ability to redirect TCP and UDP packets to subvert security controls in place. Want to bypass a firewall? Or all the firewalls? This capability provides this at scale.

Command execution with administrative privileges (and without any logging of such commands ever been executed)

Attackers want the highest level of access to any system they can penetrate. In a normally secure Cisco environment all commands are logged centrally. This provides an audit trail for change and configuration management and also speeds basic troubleshooting, in addition to being a great idea for security. Knowing when someone logs on and off is a key question to answer when managing security for a network infrastructure.

From an IT perspective we need to know who's made changes on the system. This is crucial for basic troubleshooting. From an infosec perspective, being able to log all changes made to a system and reviewing the log on a regular basis is Security 101. For a US-based public company, change management and configuration management are auditable.

This capability bypasses good system management and also renders these controls non auditable. We all know rootkits are bad, but how do you detect and defend against a router rootkit?

HTML traffic redirection, manipulation and modification

From a Web perspective what couldn't I do with this ability? Proxy bypass. Filtering bypass. Build a complete copy of a website, which looks and feels just like the website you think you are logging into. All of a user's transactions, web searchers, social media profiles, etc. can be manipulated literally as they cross the wire.

Think about the implications of that for a second.

A user opens their web browser, which connects to Google. Google then asks for authentication information. It's Google. I know it's Google because the browser says www.google.com and Google asks me to update my certificate. I know this is OK because I trust Google. I install the certificate and now my SSL connections are subverted.

Generally speaking, most people don't use two-factor authentication or multiple passwords for every site. We would bet if we compromised most people's Google account we would own most of their other accounts as well.

On the recent Ask Partner Network compromise it's interesting to note that only certain customers were targeted specifically. There is no indication to date as to why they received the malicious payload while others didn't. It's possible that HTML redirection was used in these attacks.

Insertion of HTML code on webpages

Now, I can pretty much install whatever malware I want on your endpoint. Maybe you grew paranoid and replaced all of your endpoints. New devices get shipped out? Awesome, I control them, too.

Final Thoughts

We have discussed just the currently known capabilities. Based on the level of sophistication, I highly doubt we have covered them all.

This is not the first leak revealing back doors on routers. In 2014, Edward Snowden disclosed that the NSA would intercept and bug a Cisco router before it was sent to a customer under surveillance. Think about the level of effort and cost it would take to divert a device in transit or intercept a shipping truck. You need people, planning, time, resources and technology to achieve goals on a single target. In that particular scenario one device, or a portion of one shipment, is under control.

But this recent scenario is far different.

Based on the latest leak, the capability to target a significant number of Cisco routers exists. This model is much more scalable and lends itself to better results. Exploiting a router in place costs ways less than intercepting a shipping truck in the middle of the night and is much more scalable. Attackers can now own the entire Internet.

Want to own one device?  Intercept it in transit. Want to own the Internet? Own the routers.

All these tools are now public. We expect WikiLeaks to make more vulnerabilities public in the near future.  As a community we must elevate this discussion. These capabilities exist to better protect nations and infrastructures.  When offensive capabilities we have built start falling into the hands of malicious actors looking to do harm and materially damaging cyber defensive operations, it is time to ask the question:

What can we do better?

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Cybersecurity
Spike in demand for cybersecurity training amid skills shortage
"Organisations cannot just rely on cybersecurity professionals to safeguard the businesses’ infrastructure and protect their data."
Story image
Malware
OpenText reveals nastiest malware of 2022, with Emotet at the top
OpenText threat intelligence experts combed through the data, analysed different behaviours, and determined which malicious payloads are the nastiest.
Story image
Cybersecurity
The growing threat of CEO fraud and how to mitigate it
By posing as the CEO or other senior figures, attackers guarantee that malicious emails get employees' attention. Many employees are reluctant to question a request from their CEO, so they usually provide the information.
Story image
Security Information and Event Management
LogRhythm announces LogRhythm Axon and new solution enhancements
According to the company, Axon provides an easier way for security teams to achieve better visibility across both cloud and on-prem log sources, helping further establish a foundation for their security practices.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Swift successfully pilots its Securities View capability
The new capability significantly increases transparency in post-trade processing while preventing costly settlement fails; it will be widely available in 2023.
Story image
Ransomware
Commonwealth tackling rising cybercrime threat in Asia
Ransomware, identity theft, and virtual security attacks identified as growing threats to security and economic growth.
Story image
Microsoft
Yubico research finds concerning trends around authentication security practices
A new global survey from Yubico has found that 59% of employees still rely on usernames and passwords as the primary method to authenticate their accounts.
Story image
Apple
Jamf shows intent to acquire mobile security firm ZecOps
This acquisition positions Jamf to help IT and security teams strengthen their organisation’s mobile security posture.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Fortinet advances AIOps to aid the hybrid workforce
"We’re continuing our commitment to AI innovation by delivering AIOps capabilities across our robust portfolio of enterprise networking technology."
Story image
Malware
Decrease in malware volume, but surge in encrypted malware
The Q2 Internet Security Report found office exploits continue to spread more than any other category of malware.
Story image
Virtual Private Network
95% of organisation rely on VPN as threats continue - report
There is a growing number of VPN-specific security threats and a need for Zero Trust security architecture in enterprise-level organisations.
AWS Marketplace
Whitepaper: A practical guide for mitigating risk in today’s modern applications
Link image
Story image
Distributed Denial of Service
Sysdig reveals a loss of $53 for every $1 cryptojackers gain
The 2022 Sysdig Cloud Native Threat Report breaks down supply chain attacks against containers and how geopolitical conflict influences attacker behaviours.
Story image
Ransomware
Delinea updates DevOps security, remote access more seamless
New enhancements include development support on the most recent Mac computers and improved secrets' management usability through automation.
Story image
Enterprise
Delinea shares the importance of PAM, partners and security for modern enterprise
Identity-based security is becoming a crucial tool for modern enterprises as they continue to adapt to different working environments.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Ransomware attacks continue to increase, report finds
Nearly a quarter of businesses have suffered a ransomware attack, with a fifth occurring in the past 12 months.
Story image
Software-as-a-Service
Varonis adds secrets discovery to data classification
The data security firm announces enhancements that detect and remediate overexposed private keys, encryption certificates, API keys, and authentication tokens.
Story image
Threat intelligence
Trellix advances threat intelligence with new research centre
Trellix has announced the establishment of the Trellix Advanced Research Center to advance global threat intelligence.
Aws Marketplace
Learn how to implement a backup and recovery plan for a new generation of Kubernetes-based modern applications
Link image
Story image
Microsoft
A deep dive into a Corporate Espionage operation
In the last few years, we have seen a dramatic shift in the level of sophistication of cyberattacks, mostly thanks to the introduction of the profit-sharing business model for financially motivated threat actors.
Story image
Mobile Device Management
How to easily scale your mobile workforce and devices for the peak shopping season
Retailers are under constant pressure to streamline processes and become more efficient while looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction levels.
Story image
Partner Programmes
Trellix set to launch new unified partner program in 2023
"We co-developed the Xtend program with our partners to create the right business model for deploying Trellix XDR."
Story image
Cybersecurity
De-risking the innovation cycle – a modern, real-time approach to security
Many organisations see cybersecurity as an inhibitor of innovation, with burdensome protection measures standing in the way of progress and speed.
Story image
Kaspersky
Cybersecurity loopholes prevalent in South East Asia
In terms of the share of vulnerabilities with publicly available exploits, three countries out of top five are located in Southeast Asia.
Story image
Network Management
Fortinet introduces enhanced AIOps across its gateways
FortiAIOps builds on Fortinet's rich history of developing artificial intelligence to deliver actionable network insights for self-optimising management.
Story image
Firewall
Barracuda accelerates growth in its data protection business
Barracuda cloud-to-cloud backup protects against evolving cyber threats, such as ransomware, and is now transactable in the Azure Marketplace.
Story image
Cloud Security
75% of AU companies had cloud security incident in past year
According to new Venafi research, complexity is due to increase, as companies plan to host more applications in the cloud.
Story image
Edge Security
Security practices for modernising the “spaghetti” of on-premises IT
Many organisations are wondering how to securely modernise their workload, often made up of a “spaghetti” of on-premises applications and management consoles.
Story image
Malware
Black Lotus Labs discovers new, multipurpose malware
Black Lotus Labs, the threat intelligence team at Lumen, has discovered a new, rapidly growing, multipurpose malware written in the Go programming language.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Best practices for industrial cyber resilience
Operational technology (OT) security is gaining more attention than ever before, but sufficient understanding of what it takes to prevent breaches is still lacking amongst many organisations.
Story image
Hybrid Cloud
Hybrid cloud security driving need for deep observability
Gigamon is bringing application and network-level intelligence together to help network, security, and cloud IT operations teams eliminate security blind spots.
Story image
Data Protection
99% of security experts unhappy with tokenisation investment
Cybersecurity experts are looking for a solution that provides the strength of tokenisation while removing the friction that has accompanied it in the past.
Story image
Firewall
Forrester names Akamai as web application firewall leader
"We continually monitor and improve our capabilities to defend customers from new threats, while enabling customers to protect evolving attack surfaces."
Story image
Work from home
Jamf showcases new products to simplify and secure work
At the 13th annual Jamf Nation User Conference, the company shared how its continuous product innovation is helping organisations succeed with Apple.
Story image
Malware
Mandiant uncovers malware ecosystem deployed on VMware hypervisors and guest systems
Mandiant research has uncovered a novel malware ecosystem that was found deployed on VMware hypervisors and guest systems by an advanced and suspected China nexus threat actor.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Employees unsure who to go to to report security incident
A new study shows more than 20% of the untrained global workforce do not know who to contact during a security breach.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Test your API Security with Infinite API Scanner
The effectiveness of API scanning technology can mean the difference between successful and unsuccessful programming outcomes, and often enterprises and IT leaders struggle to get it right.
Story image
Legacy
Trellix enables greater cyber resiliency with extended XDR platform
"Legacy SIEM technology has failed to modernise security operations. We are confident Trellix XDR fills this critical gap.”
Story image
Data Protection
Cloudflare brings Data Localisation Suite to more APAC businesses
This allows any business in these countries to service their data locally while benefiting from the speed, security, and scalability of Cloudflare’s global network.
Story image
Malware
Kaspersky uncovers new malicious malware NullMixer
Kaspersky researchers have uncovered a new malware stealing users credentials, address, credit card data, cryptocurrencies, and accounts.
Story image
Cloud
How modern IT architectures are moving beyond network visibility
Dealing with multiple cloud providers makes it difficult to identify security threats and performance bottlenecks and troubleshoot issues.
Story image
Software-as-a-Service
Enterprises yet to fully commit to cybersecurity - CompTIA
“Digital transformation driven by cloud and mobile adoption requires a new strategic approach to cybersecurity, but this poses significant challenges."