ProSymbols/The Noun Project/Andrew McGill

We Built a Fake Web Toaster, and It Was Hacked in an Hour

It's really, really easy for hackers to find unsecured devices.

Last week, a massive chain of hacked computers simultaneously dropped what they were doing and blasted terabytes of junk data to a set of key servers, temporarily shutting down access to popular sites in the eastern U.S. and beyond. Unlike previous attacks, many of these compromised computers weren’t sitting on someone’s desk, or tucked away in a laptop case—they were instead the cheap processors soldered into web-connected devices, from security cameras to video recorders. A DVR could have helped bring down Twitter.

Great, I thought as I read the coverage last week. My DVR helped bring down Twitter. (Probably not, at least this time—the targeted products were older than what you’d find in most American homes, and less protected.) But the internet is huge! There are around a couple billion public IPv4 addresses out there; any one of those might have a server, a desktop computer, or a toaster plugged in at the other end. Even if the manufacturer of my gadget gave it a dumb and easily guessed password, wouldn’t it be safe in this sea of anonymity? How would the hackers find me?

I don’t actually own a wireless toaster. But I devised a test. Renting a small server from Amazon, I gussied it up to look like an unsecured web device, opening a web port that hackers commonly use to remotely control computers. Instead of allowing real access, though, I set up a false front: Hackers would think they were logging into a server, but I’d really just record their keystrokes and IP addresses. In cybersecurity circles, this is called putting out a honeypot—an irresistible target that attracts and ultimately entraps hackers and the scripts they use to find vulnerable servers.

Here’s what my particular honeypot looked like, if you tried to log in:

I switched on the server at  1:12 p.m. Wednesday, fully expecting to wait days—or weeks—to see a hack attempt.

Wrong! The first one came at 1:53 p.m.

This graphic is a simulation—a bot’s-eye view, if you will—but it’s the actual sequence of commands the hacking script used. It tried a common default username and password (root/root) and executed the “sh” command, giving it the ability to run programs and install its own code. My fake toaster doesn’t allow that, of course—it just cuts the connection.

The next hacking attempt, from a different IP address and using different login credentials, came at 2:07 p.m. Another came at 2:10. And then 2:40. And 2:48. In all, more than 300 different IP addresses attempted to hack my honeypot by 11:59 p.m. Many of them used the password “xc3511,” which was the factory default for many of the old webcams hijacked in last week’s attack.

The last attempted hack came 26 minutes ago using the username "root" and the password "xc3511." (Yes, those are live figures; they were updated when you loaded this page.)

I’ll admit this volume of attacks might not be typical. I hosted my fake toaster on a virtual Amazon server, not an actual toaster hooked up to residential internet. Hackers aren’t typing these passwords themselves—they’ve programmed bots to do the hard work for them, scanning through thousands of open ports an hour. And I’d bet those scripts are trawling Amazon’s range of IP addresses more frequently in hopes of hacking vulnerable rookies. (If that has happened to me without my knowledge, I am very sorry and please don’t hurt me.) But my experience matches what security firms have seen. It is now within the capability of hackers to literally scan the entire internet, looking for vulnerable servers with open ports. And every hacked computer adds another recruit to the search effort, shortening the time required geometrically.

Matthew Prince, the cofounder and CEO of Cloudflare, said anyone hooking up a poorly secured  IP device to the internet can expect to see that gizmo hacked within a week, if not much sooner.

“Assuming it’s publicly accessible, the chance [of being hacked] is probably 100 percent,” he said. “The IPv4 address space just isn’t that big. You can now run a scan across that entire space in hours, especially if you have a big botnet. The scans for vulnerability are continuous, and if anything, have accelerated over the last couple of years.”

This doesn’t mean that every Internet-of-Things device is vulnerable. Most things that you connect to the web through your home WiFi are probably okay: Your router kills most incoming hacking attempts. (Of course, if your router is compromised...) You have more to worry about if your device hooks up to your modem directly, which is more common in industrial settings.

All the same, the vastness of the internet can no longer protect us. I can’t count the number of sloppy things I’ve done, security-wise, because I thought I was small enough to escape notice—reused passwords, put private keys in code, left servers open to the world. Nowadays, even the most obscure among us can be found by a roving script, and in a startlingly small amount of time.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.