NewsDecember 15, 2016 @ 8:31 AM

DNSChanger Exploit Targets Routers Through Web Browsers

Proofpoint recently discovered a variant of the DNSChanger exploit kit (EK), which is commonly used in malvertising campaigns. The latest version infects physical internet routers through web browsers. But instead of poking holes in a victim’s browser or computer, DNSChanger exploits vulnerabilities in the router itself.

A Router Attack, Rerouted

The method of the attack is fairly sophisticated in execution. It starts when a cybercriminal buys legitimate ad space on a website and posts a file that has been poisoned with JavaScript. At first, the JavaScript simply makes a Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) request directed at a Mozilla STUN server that will be able to deliver the victim’s local IP address.

The attacker then tries to determine whether the victim is using a home or small business network. These networks are commonly attached to many vulnerable routers. If the victim’s IP is already known or exists outside the targeted range, he or she will be sent down a decoy path to view a benign, third-party advertisement. This allows the malware to avoid detection.

Hidden Keys

Unlucky victims, however, will be directed to a tainted ad. This .png file has JavaScript-extractable HTML code hidden inside the comment field, which pushes the victim to the landing page of the true exploit. The exploit server then passes the browser a small image.

The EK uses that image to load an Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) key hidden inside the image via steganography. That AES key is used to hide the next commands sent from the command-and-control (C&C) server. The vulnerable router list is then transferred, along with any suggested exploits. The EK looks for them on the network, infecting as it goes.

Once infected, the router serves malicious ads at will. Regardless of the initial infection vector, the malware changes the router’s Domain Name System (DNS) entries and infects any device that connects to it.

Mitigating DNSChanger

According to Bleeping Computer, targeted routers include Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Comtrend, Pirelli and Zyxel. Users should upgrade their router firmware to the latest version to begin protecting themselves.

It’s not enough to simply use stronger router passwords, since the attack comes through the browser and bypasses all router security. However, users can also be cautious about the ads they click and work to avoid malvertising.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.