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When hkrz pwn your router

19 December 2016

Most computer users are familiar with the need for using anti-virus software on their machines, so as to avoid the worst of the evil payloads that evil little sods would use to infect your system.

In fact, there's a huge industry now built around protecting your PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone and other devices from the effects of malware.

However, it's beginning to look as if pwning a computer is old-hat. There is now a much greater prize just asking to be pwned.

I'm talking about your DSL/fibre modem/router.

Not only does the hacking of such a device grant the evil little sod concerned with immense power -- but it's often also a whole lot easier than trying to do battle with modern AV software in order to gain a foothold on a user's computer.

So what's the advantage, to a hacker, of getting control of a user's router?

Well the humble DSL/fibre modem/router is a user's gateway to the internet.

All data, coming and going, must pass through this device. Therefore, if you have control of that device, you can control what the user sees in some very subtle (and potentially profitable) ways.

Even snooping on valuable data becomes easier because control of the router makes man in the middle (MIM) attacks much easier.

When a user wants to visit a website, you can tell the router to redirect that traffic to your own server -- which will log all the data coming and going, before passing it from or two the user's computer. Even SSL won't save the user from snooping if the hacker is smart enough to set up some clever tech to do some spoofing.

However, the latest clever use of router pwning seems to involve generating ad revenue.

By intercepting the flow of adds from legitimate sites and their ad networks, to a user's screen, a hacker can instead replace those ads with those of his own -- paid for by different advertisers.

This means that when you go to a reputable site like (say) the BBC's news service, the ads you see on those pages won't actually be the ones that the BBC would have sent you. Instead, the requests to the ad-servers from a user's browser will be redirected to the hacker's server where he'll serve up whatever ads people are paying him to display on those pages.

The real advantage of this is that the average user would be none the wiser -- except perhaps when ads for porn or online gambling sites start appearing.

What's more, even when a user does twig to the fact that something "isn't quite right" about their system, odds are that they'll just take their computer to the local service shop where they'll run some AV software, find a few "possible" bits of malware and some "suspicious" registry entries -- then declare the machine "clean".

Meanwhile, the compromised router will resume serving up bogus crap as soon as the computer is reconnected.

What's more, many of the modem/routers in common use are far from secure -- either because there are software flaws and back-doors, or because users seldom bother to actually set them up securely. We live in a "plug and play" world where manually configuring stuff or setting new admin passwords is not something most folk are familiar with.

As a result, the home modem/router is becoming the low-hanging fruit that attracts hackers and gives them a great door into your system.

Do readers have any ideas how to address this issue?

Do end users even know what ports should be open, which should be closed, how to set up a firewall, what telnet is and why it's important to set up a strong admin password?

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