One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.
Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.
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Now without further ado…
Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/2018/OSJ-Jul-18.pdf
THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
Around the time of Dayton, the FBI asked everyone to reboot their routers. Why would they do that? Over the last two years more than 500,000 consumer and small business routers in 54 countries have become infected with a piece of malware called “VPNFilter.” This sophisticated malware is thought to be the work of a government and somewhat targeted with many of the infected routers located in Ukraine.
Security researchers are still trying to determine what exactly VPNFilter was built to do. So far, it is known to eavesdrop on Internet traffic grabbing logon credentials and looking for specific types of traffic such as SCADA, a networking protocol controlling power plants, chemical plants, and industrial systems. Actively, it can “brick” the infected device. Bricking is a term to mean ‘render the device completely unusable’ and being as useful as a brick.
In addition to these threats, this malware can survive a reboot. Wait, didn’t the FBI ask all of us to reboot our routers? Won’t that clear the infection? No. In order for this malware to figure out what it needs to do, it reaches out to a command-and-control server. A command-and-control server issues commands to all infected devices, thus being “controlled.” C&C, as they are often abbreviated, allows the bad guys in control a lot of flexibility. It can allow infected devices to remain dormant for months or years. Then, the owner can issue commands to ‘wake-up’ the infected devices (called a botnet) and perform intended tasks. Tasks can range from attack a site, such as DynDNS which I wrote about in November of 2016, to steal logon credentials for users connected to the infected router. Back to the question, the FBI seized control of the C&C server. When an infected router is rebooted, it will try to reach out to the C&C server again but instead will be contacting a server owned by the FBI. This only gives the FBI a sense of how bad this infection is. Rebooting will not neutralize the infection.
Affected devices include various routers from Asus, D-Link, Huawei, Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, TP-Link, Ubiquiti, Upvel, and ZTE, as well as QNAP network-attached storage (NAS) devices. There is no easy way to know if your router is infected. If yours is on that list, one can assume theirs is infected. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many manufactures don’t have firmware updates to fix the problem. The ones that have fixed the problem did so years ago. Since no one patches their routers, that’s why there’s half a million infected.
First thing to do is gather information about the make, model, and current firmware of your router. Then check for announcements from the manufacturer about affected firmware versions or preventative steps. The only known way to clear this infection is to disconnect it from the Internet, factory-reset the router, upgrade the firmware (if one is available), and reconfigure it for your network – or simply throw it away.
If those last couple words strike fear into your heart, there are a couple options:
- See if your ISP has a device they will send or install for you. It can be reasonably assumed that devices provided or leased by the ISP will be updated by the ISP.
- Find someone in your club that knows at least the basics of networking to help reconfigure things
- Many newly purchased devices come with some sort of support to get you up and running
If you’re a little more advanced and want to learn more about networking:
- Use 3rd party firmware. Currently they are not showing signs of being vulnerable to VPNFilter or other infections. 3rd party firmware projects are often maintained by enthusiasts. They are updated LONG past when the manufacturer stops supporting their own products and updates often happen quickly. Some of those projects include: OpenWRT/LEDE, DD-WRT, or Fresh Tomato.
- A Linux box could be setup with Linux packages to mimic router functionality or use a distribution such as pfSense or OPNsense.
- Another great device to use is the Ubiquity EdgeRouter-X for $49.
- Check the “Comparison of Firewalls” for other ideas.
That $5 hamfest deal isn’t sounding so great anymore. It’s the law of economics for these companies too. $10, $30, or $100 for a device isn’t going to sustain programmer’s time to find, fix, troubleshoot, test, and release firmware updates for a 7-year-old device. It’s a struggle. I think it will come down to spending more on better devices which will be upgraded longer or spend $50-$100 every 3-5 years to replace an OK one.
The Department of Commerce released a report on the threat of botnets and steps manufactures could take to reduce the number of automated attacks. It hits on a number of good points but lacks many details. “Awareness and education are needed.” Whose responsibility is it to educate? I can write articles in the OSJ but I’m not going to be able to visit everyone’s house and determine if your devices are infected. “Products should be secured during all stages of the lifecycle.” Automated updates could take care of this problem but doesn’t address what-ifs. What if the update fails or worse yet, bricks your “Smart” TV as an example? Who is going to fix or replace them? Will they be fixed if it’s out of warranty? Not to mention operating system “updates” are bundled with more privacy violations and ways to monetize users.
There’s a lot of work to be done. I wish I had the answers. Regardless, we all need to be good stewards of the Internet making sure ALL attached devices are updated and current.
More technical details on VPNFilter and citation for this article: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/06/router_vulnerab.html
Finally this month, thank you to all the clubs and groups that sent messages to this station via WinLink or NTS over Field Day weekend. It was the most I’ve ever received, about 12 – 15 messages altogether.
Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK