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Alcatel under fire for ADSL security

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A team of security researchers has highlighted security concerns involving Alcatel's ADSL modems.

Alcatel's Speed Touch ADSL modem, which is used by many telcos in provisioning high-speed Internet access, is said to be afflicted with bugs which could allow a hacker to take over the device.

Only the Ethernet version of the device and not the USB version, which is used by most UK ADSL subscribers if affected by the problem.

The security loopholes in affected kit would allow a hacker to change the device's configuration and upload new firmware or even disrupt communications between the telephone central office providing ADSL services and the modem.

Lack of proper authentication, poor cryptographic protection of passwords and various back-door security issues have been highlighted among various design flaws suggested to afflict the device, which are detailed in full here.

Alcatel, the world' leading DSL modem maker with an estimated 35 per cent share of the market, has issued a statement advising users to use a firewall in order to protect their ADSL connection.

It has also questioning the seriousness of the issues identified by researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Centre at the University of California, who identified the potential problems in the course of testing the modem.

The French networking giant said that by default its Speed Touch modems ship with a feature that prevents remote updating of firmware, and it suggest that it's a user's own look-out if this protection is turned off.

However it did concede that in some cases a service provider might advise a user to temporarily turn off this protection on modems, in order that it can update software.

The issue has sparked a great deal of interest in the security community which has been heightened by the involvement of Tsutomu Shimomura, who is famous for his involvement in the arrest of ex-hacker Kevin Mitnick, as part of the San Diego research team.

According to one well-connected figure in the UK, Shimomura (or Nit Boy as he's knows) has the biggest ego of anybody involved in IT security. Our source said the San Diego paper highlights concerns about the Alcatel modem beyond the well-understood risks of having an always on Internet connection, but how serious the security issues highlighted are remains, at least for the moment, unclear. ®

Update:

BT has issued a statement which states that none of its customers are affected by the vulnerability.

BT's statement said: "In a recent report compiled by CERT the Alcatel Speedtouch ADSL modem has been alleged to suffer from specific security vulnerabilities, BT has no comment to make on these allegations but would like to emphasise that these issues are not relevant to the BT Broadband portfolio.

"Whilst the Alcatel Speedtouch Home modem in question is currently used in BT Videostream and BT DataStream both products use only the ATM25 port and not the Ethernet port where the proposed vulnerability is centred.

"BT IPStream does not use this version of the Alcatel modem. BT IPStream 500 uses the Alcatel Seedtouch USB modem which does not use the Ethernet port and is not susceptible to the issues outlined in the report. BT IPStream S services use the Efficient 5861, once again this product has a different design to the modem in question and is not susceptible to the proposed security vulnerabilities."

External links

CERT Advisory: Multiple Vulnerabilities in Alcatel ADSL Modems
Alcatel's response

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

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