State-backed hackers have been launching attacks that exploit security flaws in Cisco networking switches, according to the firm's own threat intelligence unit.
Cisco Talos revealed that its hardware is now being targeted by concerted attacks "believed to be associated with nation-state actors" in a Department of Homeland Security report.
The government document claims that Russian government hackers have been attacking a range of US industries. Cisco is one of the contributors to the report.
Cyber criminals have been targeting exploits in a protocol for the Cisco Smart Install Client, which works with a variety of switches. Using the flaws, hackers could modify critical server settings, letting them conduct networking software commands without the administrator's permission, the company warned.
The firm came across the exploit when it used scanning tool Shodan to look for potential security threats. It believes that more than 168,000 systems could be exposed to this type of attack.
Nick Biasini, a threat researcher working within Cisco's Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, said that the exploit is "not a vulnerability in the classic sense". Rather, he said, it is an example of "misuse" and an "attack vendor". He added that the exploit should be "mitigated immediately" in order to avoid any further hacking attempts.
He continued: "It can be easy to ‘set and forget' devices, as they are typically highly stable and rarely changed.
"Combine this with the advantages that an attacker has when controlling a network device, and routers and switches become very tempting targets."
Released on 5 March, the DHS report accuses Russia of backing a number of hacking campaigns against the US nuclear and critical manufacturing industries.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced a raft of new sanctions against Russian businesses and entrepreneurs in response to continued malicious activities.
The US effort to call out alleged Russian activity continued on Friday with a fresh round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and their companies.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites.
"Russian oligarchs and the elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government's destabilising activities."
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