We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
80,258 News Articles

Symantec warns of drive-by hackers

Home users warned again on password policy

Home PC users have been warned to change the default password on their home router to avoid a new type of hack.

Researchers at Symantec and Indiana University have published the results of tests that show how attackers could take over your home router using malicious JavaScript code.

For the attack to work, hackers would need a couple of things to go their way. First, the victim would have to visit a malicious website that served up the JavaScript. Second, the victim's router would have to still use the default password that it's pre-configured with it out of the box.

In tests, the researchers were able to do things like change firmware and redirect a D-Link Systems DI-524 wireless router to look up websites from a DNS (Domain Name System) server of their choosing. They describe these attacks in a paper, authored by Sid Stamm and Markus Jakobsson of Indiana University, and Symantec's Zulfikar Ramzan.

"By visiting a malicious web page, a person can inadvertently open up his router for attack," the researchers write. "A website can attack home routers from the inside and mount sophisticated... attacks that may result in denial of service, malware infection, or identity theft."

Once the router has been compromised, victims can be redirected to fraudulent websites, the researchers say. So instead of downloading legitimate Microsoft software updates, for example, they could be tricked into downloading malware. Instead of online banking, they could be giving up sensitive information to phishers.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that consumer routers ship with simple, well-known default passwords, like ‘admin’, which could be exploited by attackers.

"Owners of home routers who set a moderately secure password - one that is non-default and non-trivial to guess - are immune to router manipulation via JavaScript," the paper states.

The researchers blame router makers for shipping products with “poorly secure default settings”.

Vendors like D-Link and Cisco are aware of the problem. "It's a concern to us," said Karen Sohl, a spokeswoman with Cisco's Linksys group. "We've shipped about 30 million routers and we want those 30 million customers to understand why it's so important to change [the default password]."

Both Cisco and D-Link said they've taken steps to avoid this type of security problem. Over the past few years they've introduced step-by-step "wizard" software to configure their routers, and these products always suggest that the user come up with a unique password.

The problem is that the routers still work if the password is left as default. And that's not likely to change anytime soon, according to Michael Scott, D-Link's technical media manager.

Users wouldn't buy routers that forced them to enter unique passwords, he said. "That would only result in returned products, and then they would buy one of our competitors products," he said.


IDG UK Sites

Very best Black Friday 2014 tech deals UK: Latest bargains on phones, tablets, laptops and more...

IDG UK Sites

Black Friday feeding frenzy infects the UK

IDG UK Sites

VAT MOSS: Will I be affected by the EU VAT changes? Here are the facts for designers and artists

IDG UK Sites

Black Friday 2014 UK: Apple deals, Amazon deals & Black Friday tech offers