When attacks from the Mirai botnet hit the network in 2016, we all knew something was different. You could feel it. In a 31-day span, the internet suffered three record-breaking attacks; Brian Krebs’ at 620 Gbps, OVH at 1.2 Tbps, and the widespread outages caused by the attack on Dyn DNS. Also within that window, the source code for Mirai was released to the world.
Mirai no longer holds the record for the largest volumetric attack on the Internet. That honor goes to the Memcached reflection attacks on Github. In fact, once the code was released, the botnets went from a few botnets with several enslaved members, to several botnets with fewer members. More botnets were fighting to enslave a pool of devices.
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Attackers Get Creative
Attackers, as they always do, got creative. By modifying the Mirai code, attackers could discover new devices by leveraging other known exploits. While many attackers were fighting for telnet access to IoT devices with traditional Mirai, new variants were developed to find additional methods of exploitation and infection. Examples include TR-064 exploits that were quickly added to the code (and used to infect the endpoints of service providers), a 0-day exploit on Huawei routers in several botnets, and the Reaper botnet, which includes 10 previously disclosed CVEs.
One thing that has remained the same, however, is the attack vectors that are included in the modern botnets. They’re largely all based on Mirai, and even if their infection methods differ, the attacks don’t change much.
For example, Masuta and DaddysMirai include the original Mirai vectors but removed the HTTP attack. Orion is an exact copy of the original Mirai attack table (and just like Mirai, has abandoned the PROXY attack). Owari added two new vectors, STD and XMAS.
Understanding IoT Attacks
My background in network engineering naturally made me curious about the impact of these attacks on the network. What do they look like in flight? How is each one different? Is one more of a threat than another? I have been studying the attack vectors since they were released in 2016, but with the observation that new variants largely included the same attacks (and some twists), it was clearly worth revisiting.
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Today we launch a new publication, IoT Attack Handbook – A Field Guide to Understanding IoT Attacks from the Mirai Botnet and its Modern Variants. This is a collection of research on the attack vectors themselves and what they look like on the wire. You will see that they’re not much different from each other, with the only truly interesting change being the introduction of a Christmas Tree attack in Owari. But that too had some interesting challenges. You’ll have to read the guide to find out why.
It’s important to understand the capabilities of Mirai and other IoT botnets so that your organization can truly comprehend the threat. Manually reacting to these attacks is not viable, especially in a prolonged campaign. In many cases, it is possible to block some of these attacks on infrastructure devices such as core routers or upstream transit links, but in many cases, it’s not.
Effectively fighting these attacks requires specialized solutions, including behavioral technologies that can identify the threats posed by Mirai and other IoT botnets. It also requires a true understanding of how to successfully mitigate the largest attacks ever seen. Hopefully, this handbook provides the guidance and insight needed for each vector if your organization ever needs to take emergency measures.