On October 21, 2016 the Mirai Botnet was responsible for a massive DDoS against the United States DNS provider Dyn. The result knocked dozens of companies off of the Internet for the better part of a day until defensive mitigation procedures where implemented. Today, we have just learned that the same IoT botnet is responsible for taking the entire country of Liberia down. Yes, an entire country.
In a previous blog, I described the seriousness of this malware and how it was weaponized. This is not a simple kiddie script exercise. This is a full blown attack designed to interrupt the operations of a foreign government. How can that not be considered a weapon?
What Was Affected, and How
The attack in Liberia was well planned and equally well executed. Security researcher Kevin Beaumont determined that the Mirai Botnet targeted, "Lonestar Cell MTN." This telecommunication company (similar in nature to OVH in France which experienced a similar attack in September) provides the Internet to all of Liberia via a single gateway on an undersea fiber cable from Cape Town. This infrastructure was added in 2011 after years of civil war and is the only high bandwidth source of Internet traffic for the entire nation. So targeting a single point of failure proved successful in disrupting the entire country’s Internet-based operations.
The Scale of this Attack Could be Much Worse
As a matter of Internet architecture, the ACE fiber cable not only supports Liberia, but also supports ALL 23 countries that utilize its services in Europe and Africa. This opens up the possibility of this next generation cyber weapon disrupting operations in these countries as well. If this architecture is not raising alarms, it should. Why? Because the weapon was made possible by even more insecure IoT devices. Yes, CCTV cameras and baby monitors that have been compromised due to insecure default credentials.
While this maybe is just another test of the botnet itself (I doubt it – but it could be), it has now been proven that the results can be devastating to a nation and provides a glimpse of how it can be used in even larger-scale attacks to potentially knock out entire continents off the grid. Any single point of failure, even with distinct multiple points, could not handle the scaled distributed denial of service this botnet is potentially now capable of doing.
This botnet has hence received the unofficial name, “Shadow Killer,” to add to our vocabulary of structured named attack vectors. I am certain we will see more of its usage and capabilities as long as insecure IoT devices have their command and control structure in place.
How to Combat IoT Threats
There are multiple mechanisms to employ to combat the potential effects of botnets infecting IoT devices – everything from simple defensive electronic strategies to legislation. Key areas to start exploring are credential and password management to keep these threats from propagating, and vulnerability scanning and remediation to close known security holes in devices.
Watch for more on this developing story. In the meantime, if you have unsecured IoT devices, contact us today!
Morey J. Haber, Chief Security Officer, BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is the Chief Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored four books: Privileged Attack Vectors, Asset Attack Vectors, Identity Attack Vectors, and Cloud Attack Vectors. He is a founding member of the industry group Transparency in Cyber, and in 2020 was elected to the Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA) Executive Advisory Board. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust security and governance for corporate and cloud based solutions and regularly consults for global periodicals and media. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition where he served as a Product Owner and Solutions Engineer since 2004. Prior to eEye, he was Beta Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.