An image of draftsmen at desks working on technical drawings

Back to the drawing boards.

NOTE: This is part 3 in a series about the recent DDoS attacks using Internet of Things enabled devices. We look at where manufacturers are culpable in this latest attack.

The Insecurity of Things:
Part 1Look into the MiraiAn overview of what happened
Part 2Wagging the DogWhat Mirai is really about – security and secure passwords
Part 3 – A Manufactured Problem – The ‘root’ of this lies with the manufacturers – Here’s what they’re doing, and what they need to do

This is the final piece in my three-part series about the Internet of Things and the DDoS attacks that have taken place in the last month. I’ve saved this post for last because I feel it’s the most essential. As I’d said in my last piece, we, as users, need to create secure passwords and credentials for all aspects of our online life. I focused on what consumers can do to improve their security, but it doesn’t stop with them. We need to hold manufacturers to account.  Manufacturers have the biggest responsibility in this.

In the attack on Dyn, a majority of the devices used could be sourced back to one manufacturer, Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co Ltd. They make parts for cameras, DVRs and storage devices. You’ve may not have heard of them because they ‘white-label‘ a lot of their products. They also make components used in products and some of those components were open to attack. The reason I’m distinguishing here is I want to make clear that your devices are only as secure as your weakest piece. I should make it clear that Xiongmai has issued a recall for some of their devices, but this is complicated by the fact that, as a company who white-labels, you may have one of the devices and may not know it. 

In order to provide perspective, let me cover some of the problems these manufacturers have.

Security Issues

In my second piece of this series, I covered what consumers can do with passwords. I called that piece ‘Wagging the Dog’ because, to me, IoT is the dog and credentials are the tail. Now, I aimed that piece at users and talked about what they could do to improve their security. I want to be clear, however, that for these DDoS attacks, a lot of the blame goes on the manufacturers. The devices in question had default or easy to guess credentials that users of the devices COULDN’T change if they wanted to. You might have seen the list compiled by Brian Krebs below:

List of devices attacked in Mirai botnet attack with default usernames and passwords.

From Brian Krebs’ follow up piece on the Mirai DDoS attack.

This list is compiled from the source code for Mirai, the software used to attack devices. It’s pretty shocking to me to see some of the passwords and accounts listed here, honestly. For those who may not be familiar with servers and deeper computer usage terminology, let me say to you that seeing the user ‘root’ on so many of these is scary. Root is the main user of a system. It’s superadmin with all permissions. That means that anyone with those credentials can do whatever they want to that device.  But that’s not all, you’re note that at least one of these devices just required the username of ‘root’ and NO password.

The one that really got me though is Xerox. For almost all of their printers, the default user is ‘admin’ and the password is ‘1111’. I decided to see if I could find these listed in documentation on their site. I wanted to see if it would be hard for me to get this information. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Here’s what I did:

  1. I searched from my search engine ‘Logging in as system administrator on your Xerox printer’.
  2. I found the first unpaid result to be the link very similar to the link listed above.
  3. When I got to the page, this is what I found:
    Text from Xerox's website telling you how to access system admin's password and username.
  4. I clicked on the support page link and searched for a model number.
  5. I clicked on a link to a pdf for the model in question.
  6. I searched the term ‘password’.
  7. I found the username and password for the copier. Here’s a screenshot:
Xerox default username and password found on their site.

PDF containing this information was easy to find using a model number and searching the PDF for the word ‘password’.

Okay. That was way too easy. Now, I’m not divulging any secret here or hacking any system to get this information. Xerox is only an example of the problem. Their devices weren’t named in the Mirai attacks, BUT their credentials were found in the source code. I’m taking information you could get by reading an article, performing a search and voila! What can Xerox do about this? There are several things:

  1. Don’t use admin/1111 as the default credentials. Give each new customer a randomly generated way of authenticating.
  2. Password protect any system administrator documents on their website. Require a ‘customer id’ number along with credentials.
  3. Remove the display of ANY credentials from PDFs. Instead, put a ‘customer support’ number there, where a person has to call in to get credentials or have a remote authentication mechanism as part of the customer support.

So, I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t the user of this printer just change the password? In fact, in the screenshot from Xerox’s site, they encourage users to do that. That can be easier said than done. That password is required in multiple places for support and maintenance. Also, changing the password can be an onerous task. The keyboards on copiers and printers are not the friendliest to use, so creating a more complicated password can be time consuming and having to reenter it all the time could be a nuisance. I will say, though, end user, you should think hard about this. How often do you need to access admin for your system? What constraints does it put on you to change that password? My answer is, do it. Don’t think about it, just do it.

So, it appears to me that admin/1111 is used for convenience of systems support. This lies at the manufacturer’s door. To me, this type of thing is essential to customer care. Build security into your device and work to educate them as to why this is essential to their business. As a non-user of a product, it should not be this easy for me to get this information. Period.

So, now that we’ve looked at passwords, let’s move on to hardware.

Hardware Issues

Security expert Bruce Schneier first called out the issues with hardware in his excellent piece from 2014. In fact, this was the piece that inspired me to push CRT into the IoT space. He helped me see that we need to protect our members and their clients as these devices were ramping up for the home. He literally ‘peels back the onion’ on the hardware and software and all the challenges wrought. Briefly, I’ll try to paint a picture of the challenge using Schneier’s paints. In order to make an internet-enabled device, you have to pull together a number of smaller components.

As the product manufacturer, it’s most likely you don’t make those components because they require specialized equipment and knowledge. They are also relatively cheap, so, economically, it’s better to buy than build. When you put these components together from various manufacturers, you now have a mash-up of pieces. Some of these pieces are essentially mini-computers and have software running on them. Now, each one of these components with firmware or running some low-level software are a risk because, as we know from owning computers for the last 40 years, software has bugs. Once a vulnerability is discovered in the software on these components, you now have a chink in the armor. The question then becomes, how does one get an update for the firmware for a component in a device you bought and expect to just work? It’s not easy. Does the component manufacturer step up and release the patch? Does the manufacturer then deploy the patch? How does a user of the hardware know when there’s a needed critical patch? Why not just release an update over the air?

Manufacturers need to have a plan on how to work with components companies to deliver better, more secure products. I do understand this is much easier said than done. But, we need to get there. Getting a product to market before anyone else does shouldn’t happen unless you’ve considered all the issues and what you can do to fix them. One company I want to highlight as doing very well at the Internet of Things is Canary. They make a security camera for the home. We’ve been in contact with them several times and have talked about these issues and how they’re approaching them. Out of all the companies we’ve met, Canary strikes me as taking these issues the most seriously.

First, they take their devices to a hacker conference called Defcon every year. They want to see if they can be hacked so they can fix any problems before they make a large impact. We’ve spoken to several people there who’ve said that they work really hard to make sure this device is secure because it’s gathering sensitive data. It’s a video camera in your home. They want to make sure it’s as secure as can be.

Second, look at the security measures they are taking, including hardware encryption:
Security items for the Canary smart camera. Includes: dedicated encryption chip, AES 256-bit data encryption, encrypted cloud storage, secure web transfer (SSL/TLS)
What that tells you is that they’ve looked at the potential vulnerabilities in their device and are making sure they are covered. More like this, please.

Apple’s Homekit is another example of taking encryption seriously. People get upset with Apple because of their ‘walled garden’ approach to their systems, but there is a method to their madness. In order for your device to become a Homekit certified device, you need to have one of their encrypted chips in the device. You also need to use some ‘bleeding-edge’ security protocols for connecting to their system. Now, we’ve spoken to several manufacturers who’ve said it’s a pretty intense process, both in time and resources. Mirai highlights the need for these measures.

The answer to making other companies follow suit really comes down to putting pressure on the manufacturers and their suppliers. Do we ask the government to intervene? Do we wait for hardware manufacturers to take action like Canary and Apple? The way we see it, there needs to be a way to either certify or validate these devices. At NAR, we are investigating how we could be a part of something like this. We’ve had conversations with companies like Underwriters Laboratories (UL, LLC) and Trusource Labs, public-interest groups like The Online Trust Alliance, Future of Privacy Forum, and Center for Democracy & Technology and some vendors, about how to proceed. We are actively working on setting up a certification/validation type system. We feel like we can help be a part of the solution as we have no economic interest in these devices, yet have interest in the best possible experience in owning or living in a home. As more of these devices are released, more issues will arise. We want to mitigate as many as possible, so a standardization of this process can help to clean this up.

But we have the problem now. What can we do in the meantime? To start, the US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team) provides a list of ways to mitigate and prevent these takeovers of IoT devices. At NAR, we worked with the Online Trust Alliance and issued a statement that 100% of IoT vulnerabilities are preventable in recent attacks. In fact, we released this a few weeks before the Mirai attacks. There are a number of simple steps manufacturers can take to improve their hardware security. What I recommend you do as a user of these technologies, before you buy any product, do a search of the product name along with the phrases ‘security issues’ or ‘hacked’. Search devices you have now in the home as well. Update software regularly. Also, keep following us. We are here for our members. So, if you’ve made it through the three pieces I wrote…what thoughts do you have? Share in the comments below.


Image from New Old Stock. Original source for the image here.