“Crowdsourced” DDoS attack using IOT devices

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The recent massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on 21st October 2016 affected numerous cloud service providers (Amazon, Twitter, GitHub, Netflix, etc.). It is interesting to note that this attack leveraged hundreds of thousands of internet connected consumer devices (aka IOT devices) which were infected with malware called Mirai. Who would have suspected that the attackers involved were essentially consumer devices such as cameras and DVRs?

A Chinese electronics component manufacturer (Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology) admitted that its hacked products were behind the attack (reference: ComputerWorld). Our observation is that the security vulnerabilities involving weak default passwords in vendor’s products were partly to blame. These vulnerable devices were first infected with Mirai botnet and subsequently these Mirai infected devices launched an assault to disrupt access to popular websites by flooding Dyn, a DNS service provider, with an overwhelming amount of internet traffic. Mirai botnet is capable of launching multiple types of DDoS attacks, including TCP SYN-flooding, UDP flooding, DNS attack, etc. Dyn mentioned in a statement – “we observed 10s of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack” – such is the sheer volume of the attack by leveraging millions of existing IOT devices out there.

Subsequently Xiongmai shared that it had already patched the flaws in its products in September 2015, which ensures that the customers have to change the default username and password when used for the first time. However, products running older versions of the firmware are still vulnerable.

This attack reveals several fundamental problems with IOT devices in the way things stand today:

  • Default username and passwords
  • Easily hackable customer-chosen easy-to-remember (read as “weak”) passwords
  • Challenges with over-the-air (OTA) updates etc.

The first two problems are age old issues and it is surprising to see these come up with newer technologies involving IOT devices as well. Vendors have still not moved away from these traditional techniques of default username and passwords, nor have customers adopted strong passwords. Probably it is time, we simply accept the latter will not happen and remove the onus from customer having to set strong passwords (it is just not going to happen!).

One-time passwords (OTP) can be quite helpful here. One-time password, as the name suggests, is a password that is valid for only one login session. It is a system generated password which is essentially not vulnerable to replay attacks. There are two relevant standards for OTP – HOTP [HMAC-based One-Time Password] and TOTP [Time-based One-Time Password]. Both standards require a shared secret between the device and authentication system along with a moving factor, which is either counter-based (HOTP) or time-based (TOTP).

GS Lab’s OTP-based device authentication system presents a novel approach which helps address the challenges faced by IOT device manufacturers today. It provides unstructured device registry which is flexible enough to include information on various types of devices and an authentication sub-system which caters to authenticating IOT devices tracked in the device registry via OTP. The authentication sub-system is built on top of existing OTP standards (HOTP and TOTP) and helps alleviate the need for static (presumably weak) passwords in IOT devices. It provides support for MQTT and REST protocols which are quite prevalent in the IOT space. More support for additional protocols (like CoAP, etc.) is already planned and in the works. OTP-based device authentication system is built on top of our open source OTP Manager library.

Here are some of the advantages of using GS Lab’s OTP-based device authentication system:

  • Strong passwords – system generated based on shared secret key
  • Not vulnerable to replay attacks – passwords are for one-time use only
  • Freedom from static user-defined passwords
  • Standards based solution – HOTP and TOTP standards
  • Relevant for resource constrained devices – crypto algorithms used by HOTP and TOTP standards work with devices with limited CPU, memory capabilities.
  • Ability to identify malicious devices – rogue devices can be identified using HOTP counter value
  • Provides device registry for simplified management

 

References

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