As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, the security blogosphere has dragged another bogeyman out into the daylight, and this one is ugly. Researchers from ioActive are now positing that rather than targeting businesses and their more sophisticated technology defenses, hackers could very easily begin to target consumer-grade equipment installed by internet service providers (ISP’s e.g. Time Warner or Comcast) in your home.
Why would they do this? Aside from the much flimsier technology used throughout the home-internet industry, the IP address assigned to your device is easily discoverable because the ISP’s themselves publish information about entire blocks of internet addresses that are allocated to them. This is doubly bad because not only do hackers now have an easy-to-parse list of targets, they can make assumptions about the targets based upon the ISP that services those addresses: things like the types of equipment used by the ISP (and default passwords), geographical locations, even the types of internet service (ie. DSL, cable, satellite, etc).
As part of their investigation into the feasibility of such an attack, ioActive researchers were able to compile a list of 400,000 actual devices installed in customer homes that might be vulnerable to a simple attack that could allow hackers to “own” the device and use it as a means to gain access to any computer connected to that device, ie. all the computers in your home. The basis for the attack? The simple assumption that the default administrative password was not changed since it was installed by the ISP.
What this means for you:
Having equipment installed in your home that you don’t understand and can’t personally confirm as secure is risky and negligent. It would be akin to leaving power tools lying around within reach of a child. Sadly, most ISPs have very thin (to nonexistent) policies around governing the security of the devices they install in your home, and worse, they often rely on third-party labor to do the installs, further increasing the chances that your router was installed quickly and possibly carelessly. On top of this, how many of you after having waited multiple hours for an internet install to happen, watched the installer rush out the door before learning anything about how your new equipment works, who to call for support, or how to change the password on the newly installed router?
Do yourself a favor: familiarize yourself with your internet router, WiFi access point, or any other piece of network equipment in use in your home, figure out how to log into the device(s), and then change the password to something that is hard to guess, and written down in a safe a secure place. Don’t make it easy for the hackers by continuing to ignore the backdoor into your home network!