Security researcher Bogdan Calin has reportedly devised a new cyberattack method that can compromise certain types of routers merely by a local user opening an email on their iPhone, iPod or Mac. This new vector takes advantage of two common security weaknesses: the default mail client settings on Apple devices that loads remote images automatically, as well as default or weak admin passwords on consumer-grade routers that are often found in residences and small businesses. In a nutshell, the attack works by taking advantage of your router’s ability to be managed via web-browser by opening dozens of hidden pages with login and setting changes, each firing off in turn until one of them affects the change.
All of this happens in the blink of an eye, and because the changes don’t have to be destructive immediately, the user would not know they had just compromised their own network. These settings could include changing your DNS settings to servers that a hacker controls, allowing them to misdirect anyone on that network to sites that can further hijack computers. For example, typing “Google.com” would no longer take you to the actual Google website, but could instead send you to a counterfeit site that, for all intents and purposes, looks very similar to Google’s own site, and from there, could lure unsuspecting users into further compromising decisions.
What this means for you:
As of now, this particular attack only works on specific types of routers, and relies on the fact that many people have never set their router password to something other than the default it shipped with from the factory. Despite Mr. Calin’s warning, Apple is not planning to address the settings exploit, and has instead suggested that users can turn off the automatic loading of remote images in emails (the default setting in Android mail clients) if they wish additional security, but with the downside that all images, legitimate or not, would be prevented from loading. The simplest solution, of course, is to set your router password to something other than the default, and preferably one that is hard to guess or brute-force.
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net