Nothing is truly safe on the internet. With enough time and effort, cybercriminals can gain access to any network, any file or any piece of data that companies want to keep hidden. Businesses and security professionals have taken steps to lower this risk by recognizing the inherent issues with protocols such as HTTP and HTTPS.
According to the new National Exposure Index (NEI) from security firm Rapid7, there are a host of other public protocols putting entire countries at risk. Here’s a look at the most hackable protocols and nations worldwide.
Behind the Scenes of the NEI
As noted in Rapid7’s blog post, while efforts such as CAIDA and Shodan take aim at general data analytics and new IoT networks, there are no services designed to “gauge the general deployment of services of public networks.” So Rapid7 leveraged Project Sonar to compile a list of the most commonly used internet protocols, their relative risk and the overall risk to specific countries.
The results are telling: For example, while secure shell (SSH) is the third most popular protocol (behind HTTP and HTTPS, respectively), unencrypted Telnet services come in at No. 7. Rapid7 found 15 million nodes using the protocol, with more than 11 million offering direct access to relational databases and 4.5 million providing access to printer services.
The National Exposure Index also examined services exposed via a specific port. According to Network World, 5.4 million unencrypted Microsoft Remote Procedure Call services are exposed on port 135, while 4.5 million Universal Plug and Play services were vulnerable at port 5000. Another 4.5 million printer services were at risk on port 9100.
Rapid7’s work also examined which countries had the most devices listening on all 30 ports and which were at the highest risk of compromise. On the listening end, there are no surprises: The U.S. tops the list with more than 43 million devices, while China comes in a distant second wth 11.3 million. Interestingly, the number of listening ports did not necessarily increase overall risk.
As noted by The Guardian, it’s neither the U.S. nor China that claims the No. 1 spot for most hackable, but rather Belgium, followed by Tajikistan, Samoa and Australia; China ranks fifth, and the U.S. slides in at No. 14. It’s possible that countries with lower device numbers are simply looking for ways to rapidly improve access. Unmonitored, unencrypted protocols certainly achieve that aim.
Ultimately, the security firm argued that “these results speak to a fundamental failure in modern internet engineering.” The data supports this claim — encryption isn’t compulsory, wide-open Telnet protocols “just work” and there’s little impetus to standardize (or even reliably detect) all protocols in use.
Large-scale breaches at the hands of legacy protocols such as 2014’s Heartbleed epidemic demonstrate the risk for countries and companies alike. It won’t be easy, it won’t be fast and it won’t be simple, but the NEI makes it clear: Until safety trumps speed, the internet remains inherently insecure.