As the market continues to proliferate with Internet-connected devices, it’s no surprise that the question of how to secure these new endpoints is garnering more attention. In fact, Gartner predicted that Internet of Things (IoT) security will account for 20 percent of annual security budgets by 2020.

IoT security may be important for the future, but the way cybercriminals are targeting these devices can be traced back to 1969 — before the Internet as we know it existed.

Accessing the IoT

IBM Security recently released a research report titled “Beware of Older Cyber Attacks.” Based on IBM Managed Security Services’ analysis of customer data, it highlighted how one of the oldest protocols for accessing remote computers, Telnet, could act as a key for today’s attackers to gain unauthorized access into IoT devices.

The report also revealed that cybercriminals are performing port sweeps as part of a pre-attack technique known as footprinting to gather information on potential targets. During these scans, the Telnet port was sought out 79 percent of the time.

While Telnet has been around since 1969 and isn’t as widely used as it once was, there are many embedded system applications in IoT devices such as routers, VoIP phones, DVRs, televisions, industrial control systems and others that leverage its remote access capabilities. In fact, a Shodan search conducted earlier this month revealed more than 16 million connected devices globally with an accessible Telnet server. Since Telnet does not encrypt communications, it’s an easy target for attackers to sniff into for user IDs and passwords.

Telnet Can Cause Major Damage

Once attackers find an open Telnet port, they can:

  • Determine what information is shared between connected devices, including the particular hardware or software model. The attacker can then exploit any known vulnerabilities associated with each.
  • Identify whether authentication is required. If it’s not, the cybercriminal can gain unauthorized access and explore the system to see what data it contains.
  • Try common default accounts such as root/root, system/system, manager/manager, etc. to gain unauthorized access.
  • Easily perform brute-force attacks to obtain passwords for common user accounts or system (root or administrator) accounts.

The use of Telnet to target IoT devices is just one more example of attackers using an older technique to compromise a new technology. IoT devices and industrial control systems present in our networks don’t always get the level of security review given to a new computer server and can therefore be breached more easily.


Read the full IBM X-Force research report: Beware of older cyber attacks

More from Threat Intelligence

Expert Insights on the X-Force Threat Intelligence Index

5 min read - Top insights are in from this year’s IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, but what do they mean? Three IBM Security X-Force experts share their thoughts on the implications of the most pressing cybersecurity threats, and offer guidance for what organizations can do to better protect themselves. Moving Left of Boom: Early Backdoor Detection Andy Piazza, Global Head of Threat Intelligence at IBM Security X-Force, sat down with Security Intelligence to chat with us about the rise in the deployment…

5 min read

Ex-Conti and FIN7 Actors Collaborate with New Backdoor

15 min read -   April 27, 2023 Update This article is being republished with modifications from the original that was published on April 14, 2023, to change the name of the family of malware from Domino to Minodo. This is being done to avoid any possible confusion with the HCL Domino brand. The family of malware that is described in this article is unrelated to, does not impact, nor uses HCL Domino or any of its components in any way. The malware is…

15 min read

Backdoor Deployment and Ransomware: Top Threats Identified in X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2023

4 min read - Deployment of backdoors was the number one action on objective taken by threat actors last year, according to the 2023 IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index — a comprehensive analysis of our research data collected throughout the year. Backdoor access is now among the hottest commodities on the dark web and can sell for thousands of dollars, compared to credit card data — which can go for as low as $10. On the dark web — a veritable eBay for…

4 min read

An IBM Hacker Breaks Down High-Profile Attacks

5 min read - On September 19, 2022, an 18-year-old cyberattacker known as "teapotuberhacker" (aka TeaPot) allegedly breached the Slack messages of game developer Rockstar Games. Using this access, they pilfered over 90 videos of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto VI game. They then posted those videos on the fan website Gamers got an unsanctioned sneak peek of game footage, characters, plot points and other critical details. It was a game developer's worst nightmare. In addition, the malicious actor claimed responsibility for a…

5 min read