Feeds

Botnet control fears over IP telephony

Touching the VoIP

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

VoIP networks such as Skype and Vonage might be used to control networks of compromised machines because of security shortcomings that give hackers a better opportunity to cover their tracks, security researchers warn.

Boffins at the Communications Research Network (CRN), which involves academics from Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as industry experts - reckon that VoIP applications provide a means to anonymously launch denial of service attacks.

Networks of virus-infected machines under the control of hackers (so-called botnets) are generally controlled using IRC networks. Attack commands might also be sent via instant message. But if control traffic were buried in streaming IP Telephony packets it would be far harder to trace it origins, and catching those responsible for DoS attacks would become much more difficult.

The Communications Research Network’s working group on Internet Security argues the ability to dial in and out of VoIP overlays allows for control of an application via a voice network, making it almost impossible to trace the source of an attack. In addition, proprietary IP Telephone protocols inhibit the ability of ISPs to track denial of service activity. Encryption for user privacy, P2P systems to assist with call routing and NAT/Firewall traversal further obscure the command traffic.

"While these security measures are in many ways positive," says the CRN’s Jon Crowcroft, the Marconi professor of communications systems at Cambridge University. "They would add up to a serious headache if someone were to use a VoIP overlay as a control tool for attacks. Although one could slowly shut down and patch or upgrade the exploited machines, it would be much harder to find affected computers and almost impossible to trace the criminals behind the operation."

CRN doesn't have any evidence that hackers are using VoIP network to hide their nefarious activities. Nonetheless CRN reckons use of the technique is only a matter of time. CRN has spoken to VoIP network providers to raise its concerns prior to going public this week. It reckons the security loophole it identifies could be closed if VoIP providers were to publish their routing specifications or switch over to open standards.

Suspects in denial of service attacks have generally been arrested by tracing money offered to them as pay offs, sometimes as part of sting operations. Follow the money rather the following the packet remains a far more straightforward investigative technique.

While the points that CRN makes about the possible use of VoIP networks to obfuscate attack data (which isn't happening just yet, even according to CRN) are valid, we can't help feeling that in focusing on how attack networks are controlled it's missing the bigger picture that there an unknown, but large number of compromised Windows PCs out there that need to be identified and fixed, a problem that has become a major project for security vendors and ISPs over recent months. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
UK smart meters arrive in 2020. Hackers have ALREADY found a flaw
Energy summit bods warned of free energy bonanza
DRUPAL-OPCALYPSE! Devs say best assume your CMS is owned
SQLi hole was hit hard, fast, and before most admins knew it needed patching
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Mozilla releases geolocating WiFi sniffer for Android
As if the civilians who never change access point passwords will ever opt out of this one
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.