NewsApril 20, 2017 @ 1:31 PM

Vigilante White-Hat Hacker Boosts IoT Device Security

A new worm is battling botnets and other malicious threats to take control of the Internet of Things (IoT). The malware, known as Hajime, appears to have been created by a vigilante attempting to improve IoT device security. Rapidty Networks discovered Hajime in October 2016, but only recently found that the malware is not being used against IoT devices errantly.

Hajime could help IT decision-makers and their organizations embrace the new era of connectivity associated with IoT devices. However, its positive impact is likely to be temporary, and business leaders should recognize that there is no substitute for good management practices.

What Is Hajime?

Ars Technica explained that Hajime’s discovery followed in the wake of a similar IoT device botnet known as Mirai, which was associated with record-setting distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks last year.

Like Mirai, Hajime spreads via unsecured devices that have open Telnet ports and rely on default passwords. However, Hajime is built on a peer-to-peer network and propagates across other machines over time. It is also more advanced than Mirai, and takes many steps to conceal its processes and hide its files.

According to Symantec, Hajime has spread quickly since its initial discovery. Although it is tough to guess at the size of the peer-to-peer network, the firm estimated that the worm had affected tens of thousands of IoT devices.

Good News or Bad News for IoT Devices?

Symantec tracked infections worldwide during the past six months and found large numbers of installations in Brazil and Iran. However, this spread is not necessarily bad news: The researchers noted that Hajime is using its self-replication module to fight Mirai and other IoT device botnets.

The giveaway is that Hajime is missing notable negative features. The worm does not have any DDoS capabilities or attacking code. Instead, it simply draws a statement about white-hat hacking from its controller and presents a message on screen approximately every 10 minutes.

In fact, the installed worm works to improve IoT device security. It blocks access to ports 23, 7547, 5555 and 5358, which are known to host potentially exploitable services, Symantec reported. Mirai, for example, is known to target these ports.

What Are the Lessons for IT Decision-Makers?

Hajime has undoubtedly helped in the fight against Mirai and other IoT malware. Other white-hat worms, such as Linux.Wifatch and BrickerBot, have also attempted to secure devices or take systems offline. Bleeping Computer suggested that, in an era where IoT vendors do not seem interested in device security, vigilante malware could become widespread.

While these worms can help in the fight against malicious threats, IT decision-makers cannot take their assistance for granted. Symantec suggested that these tools have a short lifespan — once the IoT device is rebooted, it returns to its unsecured state. The firm also questioned whether it is wise for businesses to rely on the work of an unknown white-hat hacker whose intentions could change.

Users of IoT devices to take steps to avoid infection. These best practices include researching capabilities and security features, performing an audit of IoT devices on an enterprise network, changing default credentials on devices, and using strong and unique passwords for accounts and networks.

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Mark Samuels

Tech Journalist

Mark Samuels is an experienced business technology journalist with an outstanding track record in research. He specializes in the role of chief information officers (CIOs) and is adept at helping executives understand the business benefits of complex technologies. Key areas of interest include innovation, digital transformation, cloud computing, mobility, information security, ecommerce and big data. Mark has written articles for national newspapers, including The Guardian, The Times and The Sunday Times. He has also produced features and columns for a range of IT trade publications, such as Computer Weekly, ZDNet, Tech Republic, IT Pro, Channel Pro, CBR and The Register.