Hackers Taking Advantage of Unsecured Appliances

Paul Mah
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Businesses are generally cognizant of the security threats to their PCs, and will put the appropriate anti-malware software and firewall in place to protect themselves. However, a new attack vector has emerged of late that could catch SMBs off guard.

The issue has its roots in the growing sophistication and capabilities of IT appliances and devices that are deployed in corporate networks. Perhaps unavoidably, this increased complexity is paralleled by an uptick in the likelihood of security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations surfacing.

And since these devices can generally be accessible over the Internet, the possibility of hackers gaining remote access to them is hence very real. This concern is not a theoretical one either, given recent reports of vulnerabilities found in IP cameras, as well as in misconfigured videoconferencing systems.

The latest example of the former involves cameras sold under the Foscam brand in the U.S., as reported by Computerworld. In a nutshell, wireless network cameras configured to use the manufacturer’s dynamic DNS service are susceptible to discovery over the Internet. Security firm Qualys – which discovered the weakness – says that two out of 10 cameras using the service accept the default “admin” username with an empty password string. Other flaws allow a memory dump to be made, or even the firmware to be altered.

This is not the first time that major problems were discovered in a popular appliance. In February this year, 22 models of network cameras from Trendnet were found to contain a serious software flaw that allowed its video feed to be accessed online in real time without the need for a password.

Where misconfigurations are concerned, security researcher HD Moore in January identified 5,000 videoconferencing systems that were set to automatically answer calls. Moore noted that hackers could dial in to such systems to listen in on privileged boardroom conversations, or activate the high-resolution video cameras to read email and other confidential materials from the screens of laptops.

Indeed, the discovery of security flaws and misconfigurations can only increase as manufacturers incorporate more powerful microprocessors into the tech devices that they make. To harness this processing capability, customized versions of the Linux operating system and other embedded systems are finding their way into networked devices. These inevitably result in the devices inheriting any existing flaws, as well as gaining new ones that may result from implementation mistakes.

Ultimately, there is no foolproof method that SMBs can employ to defend themselves from vulnerabilities that they may not even know exist. Some simple steps can go a long way towards increasing their security, however. These include ensuring that the latest firmware is installed, passwords are always be set, and where possible, the username with administrative access should be changed from defaults such as “admin” to something less obvious.

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