The dynamic of the Internet of Things shows us the daily progress of digitalization. More and more devices are connected to the Internet, providing users comfort and efficiency. The market is constantly filled with new devices and the variety of functions attracts many users. Today, there is already a huge network of data, servers and connected intelligent devices – which, however, represents a new and above all enormous target for cyber criminals due to the unconsidered security vulnerabilities of smart devices.

The malware Mirai took advantage of this weakness: In October 2016, the botnet virus became widely known for the first time due to the largest DDoS attack ever launched, targeting the DNS provider “Dyn”. As a result, the websites and services of many international companies, including Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, were unavailable for a long time. For businesses, this can mean a loss of millions. What exactly is the story behind the malware that exploits the weaknesses of technological progress?

The origin of the Mega Botnet

2016 wasn’t the first time such an IoT botnet “hit” the market: according to independent security journalist Brian Krebs from krebsonsecurity.com, there have been Mirai-like predecessors since 2014, known as Bashlite, Gafgytm, QBot, Remaiten and Torlus. The Botcode of Mirai was created from the improved codes of its forerunners, compiled by several developers. It was finalized by a group of hackers who joined forces in 2014 and started DDoS attacks on competing Minecraft servers under the pseudonym “lelddos”, using the Mirai Botnet to slow them down or take them off the Internet, which cost their operators a lot of money.

Mirai has been designed to eliminate malware from already infected IoT devices and eventually takes it over itself. Affected devices, again, looked for other vulnerable devices to take over. Due to the growing number of IoT products controlled by Mirai, the botnet became more extensive and hackers attempted larger targets. In September 2016, the French hosting company OVH suffered a DDoS attack with a total capacity of up to 1.5 terabits per second.

Mirai – The Botnet of Things

Shortly after that attack, one of the co-developers Mirais, published the source code of the malware online under the name “Anna-Senpai”. Thus, the author enabled many hackers to copy and further develop the code. The release led to a rapid increase in imitators operating their own Mirai botnets. This eventually ended in an attack on Dyn’s server just a month later. Due to the amount of new variations of Mirai, tracing those responsible became much more difficult. But only a few weeks after that, the FBI tracked down three young Americans.

On the 5th of December 2017, the hackers pleaded guilty in court in Alaska for developing the malware and merging it into a botnet to harm companies and “other targets”. According to the court documents, the cybercriminal group also planned to earn money with its own DDoS-as-a-Service offer and racketeering. To avoid a prison sentence, the 21- and 22-year-olds agreed to assist the FBI in solving complex cybercrime investigations. Nevertheless, the sentence included a five-year suspended sentence, 2,500 hours of community service, and $127,000 in refunds. Even though, the criminal malware developers are now kept in check, the malware code still exists and can be reused, converted and improved by other hackers.

The Return of Mirai

In March 2019, security experts discovered a new type of Mirai, which is aimed primarily at IoT devices within companies. Cybercriminals expect this to increase their attack power even more as they gain access to greater bandwidth over corporate networks. The new Mirai version contains several more features, including 11 additional exploits, bringing the total number of exploits of the malware to 27. These additional features give the program an even larger attack surface. The malware spreads primarily through presentation systems, smart TVs, routers and IP cameras.
Companies are advised to change the credentials of the implemented IoT devices and to consider the security of these devices in their IT security strategy as well.

This development shows the uncertainty IoT devices face in the digitized world – the security factor is essential for businesses and users. A study by the Berkeley School of Information and the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) identified the total cost for consumers caused by a hack of a smart device and additional power consumption when that device is involved in a cyberattack: For example, the combined costs of the attack on Dyn in October 2016 amounted to around 115,000 dollars for IoT users. In a worst-case scenario, the calculator results in a sum of about 68 million dollars, about 100 dollars per user, for a DDoS attack involving 600,000 IoT devices.

The rise of DDoS Attacks

The additional attack surface, which results from the very weakly protected Internet of Things, is also reflected in the increasing number of DDoS attacks on companies.

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Whereas three years ago, there were still around 9,000 attacks per quarter on corporate infrastructure and servers in the German-speaking area, attacks increased year by year.
In the 1st quarter of 2019, there were already 11,177 DDoS attacks registered in Germany, Austria and Switzerland alone. But not only the number of attacks is on the upswing, the volume is also growing significantly. According to the Link11 DDoS Report Q1 2019, the largest DDoS attack in German-speaking countries reached a volume of 224 gigabits per second. With an increase of 70 percent compared to the same period last year, the average of the middle range of this quarter was already 3.8 Gbps. The Internet of Things is contributing significantly to the increased performance of attacks – a fact that takes cyber security to a new level once again.