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posted by janrinok on Friday May 19 2023, @11:24PM   Printer-friendly

Malware turns home routers into proxies for Chinese state-sponsored hackers

Researchers have uncovered malicious firmware that can turn residential and small office routers into proxies for Chinese state-sponsored hackers. The firmware implant, discovered by Check Point Research, includes a full-featured backdoor that allows attackers to establish communication, issue commands, and perform file transfers with infected devices. The implant was found in TP-Link routers but could be modified to work on other router models.

The malware's main purpose is to relay traffic between infected targets and command-and-control servers, obscuring the origins and destinations of the communication. The control infrastructure was traced back to hackers associated with the Chinese government. By using a chain of infected devices, the attackers can hide the final command and control and make it difficult for defenders to detect and respond to the attack.

This technique of using routers and other IoT devices as proxies is a common tactic among threat actors. The researchers are unsure how the implant is installed on devices but suspect it could be through exploiting vulnerabilities or weak administrative credentials.

While the firmware image discovered so far only affects TP-Link devices, the modular design allows the threat actors to create images for a wider range of hardware. The article concludes with recommendations for users to check for potential infections and apply proactive mitigations such as patching routers and using strong passwords.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by pTamok on Saturday May 20 2023, @08:15AM (5 children)

    by pTamok (3042) on Saturday May 20 2023, @08:15AM (#1307105)

    I administer some TP-Link routers where I have replaced the firmware with non TP-Link firmware.

    I see many login attempts over ssh coming from Chinese addresses. It's irritating as they fill up the logs. The average home user doesn't stand a chance.

    I really ought to install BanIP, and also keep a collection of attempted passwords, although they are probably just cycling through the most popular.

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by shrewdsheep on Saturday May 20 2023, @08:58AM (1 child)

    by shrewdsheep (5215) on Saturday May 20 2023, @08:58AM (#1307110)

    Best practices suggest that external ssh login into the router should be disabled, as in blocked by the firewall. I always configure routers from behind the firewall. If you do administrative work for others I understand that there might not be an internal node to work from. However, this would be just be a Rasperry Pi (Zero) with minimal energy overhead.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by pTamok on Monday May 22 2023, @09:33AM

      by pTamok (3042) on Monday May 22 2023, @09:33AM (#1307299)

      Point taken Re: best practices - and you are correct, internal nodes are not possible.

      Sometimes you have to do the best of a bad job handed to you. The passwords are high-entropy (generated by some audited code), so unlikely to be guessed. There is more likely to be a vulnerability in the underlying OS and/or firmware that can be exploited.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 21 2023, @03:51AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 21 2023, @03:51AM (#1307193)

    Basic system setup for me is fail2ban, key-based logins only, and ideally run the SSH server on a non-standard port.

    • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Monday May 22 2023, @09:36AM

      by pTamok (3042) on Monday May 22 2023, @09:36AM (#1307300)

      Sounds good.

      Key/certificate-based logins can be a mixed blessing, especially when trying to keep administrative overheads manageable. When used well, they can be excellent.

  • (Score: 2) by corey on Sunday May 21 2023, @11:49PM

    by corey (2202) on Sunday May 21 2023, @11:49PM (#1307268)

    It’s thin but possible: TP-Link are Chinese so this might be a feature, not a bug. I don’t run any TP Link gear, even though it’s always cheaper than others eg. Netgear. However I do use a Huawei router for my 4G because at the time they were per much the only one I could get that did Cat 19 LTE.