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Defcon white hat hackers declare war on SoHo routers

22 Jul 2014
Defcon hackers hunt for SoHo router bugs

A new hackathon competition designed to find previously undiscovered flaws in small office/home office (SoHo) routers has been announced for the Defcon 22 trade show, following the discovery of a fresh batch of flaws in several Cisco products.

The SoHopelessly Broken competition is a joint project between the Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) company and Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) privacy group and aims to shame SoHo vendors into improving their products' security.

The competition will take place between 7-12 August and will be split into two challenge tracks, each with different objectives.

"The objective of [track zero] is to demonstrate previously unidentified vulnerabilities in off-the-shelf consumer wireless routers. Contestants must provide relevant exploit information to the judges and publicly demonstrate the attack in the contest area at Defcon 22. Judges will score the exploits based on effectiveness and badassness," said the competition guide.

"[Track 1] contestants will be pitted against 10 off-the-shelf SoHo routers, hardened, but with known vulnerabilities. Contestants must identify weaknesses and exploit the routers to gain control."

The competition's announcement comes a few days after Cisco released a security update for multiple versions of its SoHo routers, fixing a critical flaw that left users open to attack by hackers.

SoHo flaws have been a constant headache for security professionals and are an increasingly common target for cyber criminals. Researchers at the security firm Team Cymru traced a campaign that successfully compromised 300,000 SoHo routers using man-in-the-middle attacks to two UK IP addresses in March.

Sophos researcher Paul Ducklin said the trend is dangerous as the flaws could be leveraged by hackers for various harmful purposes and showed the risks facing firms of all sizes.

"Insecurities in popular router products are like gold dust to cyber crooks. Securing your network, and your personally identifiable information, behind a shabbily programmed $50 router is a bit like locking up your $5,000 mountain bike with a $1 cable tie," explained Ducklin in a blog post.

"If the crooks own your router, they almost certainly own your DNS. If they own your DNS, then they get to choose when to dump you onto fake websites, to send your email to bogus servers, or to convince your security software there's a problem getting updates."

Ducklin was less positive about the SoHopelessly Broken competition, though, arguing its lax disclosure policy could cause more harm than good and could simply point hackers to previously unknown vulnerabilities.

"The competition is a little freewheeling for our tastes, because it claims to have a ‘strict responsible disclosure policy', yet it seems that all you need to do is disclose your exploit to the vendor ‘at some point...prior to its demonstration at the contest area'," read the post.

"With just over two weeks to go to Defcon, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time even if you disclose right now, but there doesn't seem to be any limit on how late you can leave it, or what sort of degree of detail you can use to publicise the exploit during and after the competition."

Cyber attacks are constant problem for businesses of all sizes. Research from PwC and the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) revealed cyber attacks are costing small organisations up to £115,000 per breach in April.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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