Data Breach Report

VPN Filter

Hackers infect 500,000+ consumer routers all over the world with malware What to Do Next

VPNFilter can survive reboots and contains destructive "kill" function.

Hackers possibly working for an advanced nation have infected more than 500,000 home and small-office routers around the world with malware that can be used to collect communications, launch attacks on others, and permanently destroy the devices with a single command, researchers at Cisco warned Wednesday.

VPNFilter—as the modular, multi-stage malware has been dubbed—works on consumer-grade routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, TP-Link, and on network-attached storage devices from QNAP, Cisco researchers said in an advisory. It’s one of the few pieces of Internet-of-things malware that can survive a reboot. Infections in at least 54 countries have been slowly building since at least 2016, and Cisco researchers have been monitoring them for several months. The attacks drastically ramped up during the past three weeks, including two major assaults on devices located in Ukraine. The spike, combined with the advanced capabilities of the malware, prompted Cisco to release Wednesday’s report before the research is completed.

Update: FBI agents have seized a key server used in the attack.

The agents said Russian-government hackers used ToKnowAll.com as a backup method to deliver a second stage of malware to already-infected routers.

To date, VPNFilter is known to be capable of infecting enterprise and small office/home office routers from Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, and TP-Link, as well as QNAP network-attached storage (NAS) devices. These include:

  • Linksys E1200
  • Linksys E2500
  • Linksys WRVS4400N
  • Mikrotik RouterOS for Cloud Core Routers: Versions 1016, 1036, and 1072
  • Netgear DGN2200
  • Netgear R6400
  • Netgear R7000
  • Netgear R8000
  • Netgear WNR1000
  • Netgear WNR2000
  • QNAP TS251
  • QNAP TS439 Pro
  • Other QNAP NAS devices running QTS software
  • TP-Link R600VPN

What you should do now

Both Cisco and Symantec are advising users of any of these devices to do a factory reset, a process that typically involves holding down a button in the back for five to 10 seconds. Unfortunately, these resets wipe all configuration settings stored in the device, so users will have to reenter the settings once the device restarts. At a minimum, Symantec said, users of these devices should reboot their devices. That will stop stages 2 and 3 from running, at least until stage 1 manages to reinstall them.

Users should also change all default passwords, be sure their devices are running the latest firmware, and, whenever possible, disable remote administration. (Netgear officials in the past few hours started advising users of "some" router models to turn off remote management. TP-Link officials, meanwhile, said they are investigating the Cisco findings.

There's no easy way to determine if a router has been infected. It's not yet clear if running the latest firmware and changing default passwords prevents infections in all cases. Cisco and Symantec said the attackers are exploiting known vulnerabilities, but given the general quality of IoT firmware, it may be possible the attackers are also exploiting zeroday flaws, which by definition device manufacturers have yet to fix.

What this means is that out of an abundance of caution, users of the devices listed above should do a factory reset as soon as possible, or at a minimum, they should reboot. People should then check with the manufacturer for advice. For more advanced users, the Cisco report provides detailed indictors of compromise and firewall rules that can detect exploits.

Cisco researchers urged both consumers and businesses to take the threat of VPNFilter seriously.

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