Category Archives: VoIP Attacks in the News

Hackers Attack International Space Station Email — Let’s Hope VoIP Isn’t Next

On April 1st VuNet reported that hackers had taken down the International Space Station’s email capabilities.

So, this was a good April Fool’s joke, right?

Three astronauts onboard the Space Station reported last night that email was no longer working.
Hackers are thought to have planted a Trojan in the computer systems at Houston and used the infection to ride the satellite uplink to the Space Station.

What is especially troubling is the email system’s reliance upon older Microsoft operating systems that are no longer supported by Microsoft.

“I am sorry but there is nothing we can do. It is past its deadline, said Professor Brian Offin, Microsoft’s head of obsolete operating systems.

Again, a good April Fool’s joke, right?

However, this false article brings to light the fact that as newer technologies replace legacy systems, we must bear in mind that the new technology changes will, over time, themselves become legacy systems and subject to the same outdated, unsupported and insecurities that plagued the very legacy systems they replaced.

So what’s this have to do with VoIP and the International Space Station? Well, details are thin, but way back in 2000 VoIP Group Inc. was awarded a contract to provide a VoIP replacement for the ISS to “bring about significant cost reductions as it supplements and then replaces an existing legacy system.”

Initially deployed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and later at other International Space Station operations centers, the solution will consist of VoIP Group’s gateways connected to the Internet and to Raytheon voice switches and CUseeMe conference servers to support voice conferencing. The system is designed to link together researchers, NASA operations personnel, and potentially ISS crew, to support collaboration during Space Station experiment planning and operations. Because users can access the system using a standard Internet browser on an inexpensive multimedia PC, they can be located at NASA centers, universities, and companies throughout the world, and still connect in real-time, 24 x 7.

iss voip

I hope that the sharp folks at NASA and VoIPgroup are taking the proactive steps to avoid security problems with critical communications with the ISS.

VoIP Hacker Goes to Jail

Some time back we reported here about the Pena/Moore case, where a duo stole VoIP services and then sold them on to third parties, who thought they were buying a legitimate service. Pena went on the run, and I believe is still missing. The techie of the duo, Robert Moore is now off to prison. Information Week have an interview with him here.

Skype’s Chat Worm

Skype is certainly taking some punishment recently. Today the news broke that someone has let loose a worm that uses the Skype API to send a chat message to your Skype contacts. The chat message includes a link which (if the user clicks on it) will download the w32/Ramex.A virus, which in turn infects their PC, and will visit their Skype friends. Obviously, this is a big concern for anyone with a user base as large as Skype’s, since even a small percentage of users that click on the link can cause wide distribution.

More: Skype Blog

How to Break Asterisk

Just to show that VoIP security is not all about SIP, researchers Himanshu Dwivedi and Zane Lackey from iSEC Partners have produced some interesting material on vulnerabilities in IAX, which they just presented at the recent Black Hat conference. IAX (pronounced eeks) as you may know, is a proprietary protocol often used to connect together Asterisk servers for the purposes of call routing. Implementors say that it is simpler than SIP, and also tunnels through firewalls better than SIP, thanks to a ‘VPN like’ approach that tunnels signalling and media together down the same pipe.

iSEC came up with a number of novel attacks including exploiting authentication problems with the use of MD5 hashes; man-in-the-middle and DoS. They have a very nice paper here that describes their attacks in detail, and they have also made available some code (in Python) that you can use for your own experimentation.

Not stopping at IAX, they also had a go at the granddaddy of VoIP protocols, H.323, and have published a couple of attack tools there too. It’s enough to keep you busy all Summer long.

More: Black Hat USA 2007 abstracts

Telecom Junkies podcast: Interview with a VoIP Hacker (Robert Moore of the Pena/Moore voip fraud case)

imageRemember the Pena/Moore voip fraud case back in June 2006? Would you like to know how the attacks were done?  And how you can protect your network?

First, for those who don’t recall, this was a case where Edwin Pena was alleged to have set himself up as a voice service provider and then, with the assistance of a developer named Robert Moore, routed his customer’s calls across the networks of other VoIP service providers.  Pena is alleged to have stolen at least 10 million minutes from other voice service providers and made in excess of $1 million dollars. Pena subsequently fled the country (and remains even today a fugitive).  We wrote about it here and also covered it in Blue Box podcasts #31 and #33 and I was a guest on a Telecom Junkies podcast back in July 2006 discussing the case.

In any event, one year later Robert Moore has been convicted for his part in the scheme and on July 24th was sentenced to a two-year term in prison, 3 years probation and a $150+K fine.  

Before he reports to prison in about 6 weeks, though, Moore got in contact with Jason Huffman from The Voice Report to ask if Jason was interested in an interview.  Given my prior involvement with the Telecom Junkies podcast, Jason contacted me to see if I would also be interested in coming onto the show.  Both he and I were concerned about interviewing someone recently convicted (i.e. not wanting to glorify the crime or criminal), but I shared Jason’s view that if we could obtain information about how the attacks were done we could potentially help people protect their systems against these type of attacks.  (Jonathan was also invited and provided great feedback but was unable to attend due to scheduling issues.)

The result is a new Telecom Junkies podcast: “Interview with a VoIP Hacker” which is available for download.

As we’d discussed in our previous coverage of the case, there were really two different types of systems that were attacked:

  1. Voice gateways of VoIP service providers
  2. Servers/routers of other businesses that were compromised to hide the source of traffic going to the voice gateways

In the interview, Robert Moore confirms that all the voice gateway attacks were H.323 (no SIP was involved) and they weren’t terribly sophisticated because the VoIP service providers didn’t have all that much security in place.

Moore also indicates that all the other boxes (#2) were compromised primarily by easy means such as weak and easily guessable passwords – or even worse, unchanged default passwords.  In some cases, there were boxes on the Internet with exposed SNMP ports that then let the attackers learn all about the box so that they could then research potential vulnerabilities.  This part really had nothing whatsoever to do with VoIP but instead with really just basic IT security practices which were (and undoubtedly still are) very obviously not being followed by many folks out there. 

In any event, the interview is now available for listening.  Meanwhile, Moore is soon heading off to prison and Pena is still somewhere out there…

P.S. If anyone listening can identify the name of the second switch vendor that Moore indicates he went after, neither Jason nor I could identify it despite my request for the name to be repeated.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who responded. The other switch was a Quintum Tenor –

IPTComm 2007, Day One

Day one of IPTComm brings a whole raft of VoIP Security topics: Saverio Niccolini of NEC Philips spoke about a holistic approach to VoIP intrusion detection and prevention, including the use of a “honeypot” to draw attacks away from the true telephony service to a dummy that can help in analsysis of attacks. Jens Fiedler of Fraunhofer Fokus spoke about VoIP Defender, a prototype system that allows the dynamic analysis of SIP traffic, with realtime generation of filter rules, then applied back to the signalling traffic. Ali Fessi (Univ. of Tuebingen) spoke about CoSIP, and attempt to marry traditional SIP servers with a P2P SIP approach, with the aim of improving resilience to system failures or DoS attack. Humberto Abdelnur (INRIA) described Kiph, a stateful SIP fuzzer. Rather then the approach taken by the PROTOS toolset, KIF is SIP-specific, and understands not just the grammar, but also to some extent the context and behaviour of SIP, in order to better test for vulnerabilities in SIP-based products. Finally Ge Zhang (Fraunhofer FOKUS) spoke about DoS attacks to VoIP, based on attacks to the DNS server, which of course the SIP Proxy depends upon for its function. He also described some limited defences against this threat.

Interestingly, Henning Schulzrinne told us in his opening remarks that our host, Columbia University NY, recently experienced its own SPIT (Internet Telephony SPAM) attack, with someone accessing the Proxy, and “war dialling” a lot of IP phone extensions. There have been few real-life examples of this so far, but you can see that large IP communities, like universities, are likely to attract such attacks.

We Know Where You Live

One aspect of VoIP security that keeps coming to my attention in recent weeks is that of location privacy, or in other words, does the call recipient (or others ‘listening on the line’) know where you are?

At a VON Europe panel this week, Cullen Jennings, Distinguished Engineer at Cisco, was talking about peer-to-peer (P2P) SIP, and how the P2P approach definitely helps with location privacy. He gave the example of emergency procedures in the USA, which require the country’s President and Vice President to be in different physical locations from each other yet still be able to communicate. At the same time, they must prevent eavesdropping enemies from locating the Vice President physically.

I said that ‘P2P helps’, but perhaps I should say ‘can help’, with the right systems in place. In the UK last week, Sky News ran a story about how criminals might use encrypted VoIP to run circles around the police, due to the difficulty of tapping and listening to the calls. I hope to be able to write in more detail in the next few weeks why this is basically untrue, but the information I have received is that the VoIP providers “can be very helpful” to the police in these cases. Even if a VoIP stream cannot be decrypted, it is often possible to obtain a list of times, durations, and IP addresses that can easily provide both location and evidence. Also, if a VoIP call breaks out onto the PSTN, a service offered by many or most VoIP telcos, then once again you have a location (albeit the call destination rather than the source), and you have the opportunity to monitor the call.

No-one likes to think that all their calls are being tracked, or that their location is known at all times, but of course in democratic countries we assume that there are enough checks and balances to ensure that this information is available to few and will not be abused. At the same time, criminals and terrorists should not assume that new technologies like VoIP and IM give them a cloak of anonymity, because this is definitely not the case.

Evil Codecs

Today at Spring VON Europe in Stockholm, one of the panel sessions covered the issue of the proliferation of codecs, both for video and voice.  Industy veteran Henry Sinnreich of Adobe rasied an interesting topic for the panel regarding compromised or evil codecs.  An evil codec could provide a stream of audio designed in such a way to crash or destabilize an endpoint, with the aim of putting the endpoint in a mode where the conversation could then be monitored.  Some researchers have already shown that such attacks are in principle possible.

So the question is what to do about this, and how to test systems to prevent this kind of attack?  There were no real answers were forthcoming today, but I shall certainly revisit the topic in my panel session tomorrow,  The Real Risks of VoIP Security, and see if my experts fare better.

From my own point of view, I think it could be a nightmare to have to scan every RTP stream in real time for ‘evil’ signatures, much like in email scanners.  The CPU required to do this for all audio could be disabling.  If the codec software can be ‘hardened’ and made robust enough to withstand such an attack, this would seem a better solution.

Rampant Italian Wiretapping Spurs Consumer Encryption Use

According to the New York Times, it appears as if consumers in Italy are rapidly moving toward encryption for voice technologies due to rampant publication of private conversations, both due to leaked conversations that were a result of government wiretaps as well as conversations recorded through private means. From the article:

What has spurred encryption sales is not so much the legal wiretapping authorized by Italian magistrates–though information about those calls is also frequently leaked to the press–but the widespread availability of wiretapping technology over the Internet, which has created a growing pool of amateur eavesdroppers. Those snoops have a ready market in the Italian media for filched celebrity conversations.

It would seem that in Italy, it’s fairly common to take someone’s private conversations straight to the press… Even the national telco’s head of Security was in on the game:

This year, Bonini’s name was among thousands that surfaced in an illegal-wiretapping scandal involving employees of Telecom Italia, the Italian phone company.

Twenty people were arrested, including the former chief of Telecom Italia security, in what investigators say was an attempt to use the intercepted phone conversations to blackmail Italian public figures.

Many of the cell-phone encryption products mentioned in the article that are being marketed to Italian consumers sound a lot like Zfone, essentially providing end-to-end encryption for the audio between two devices that run the encryption software in advance of the call.

Phone “Phreakers” Steal Minutes

The March 19th edition of NewsWeek has an article about cyber thieves stealing VoIP minutes by hacking into VoIP providers’ gateways. It’s the first time I’ve actually seen real numbers applied to VoIP theft:

‘These thieves steal 200 million minutes a month, worth $26 million, says New York telecom Stealth Communications. With more than 5,000 wholesale-minutes markets worldwide, located mainly on Internet forums, fraud is hard to track. Emmanuel Gadaix, head of TSTF, a Hong Kong firm that investigates VoIP thefts, says it’s “very easy to set up a temporary link” through a hacked gateway. His company was recently hired by a Panamanian telecom that lost $110,000 to phreakers. TSTF followed tracks, in vain, that snaked through Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and the United States. Phreaker trails are “way too complicated” to track successfully, says Gadaix.’

This brings up memories of the Edwin Pena case, in which he was able to rake in over $1 million USD in profits from stealing and reselling VoIP minutes from several providers.

Does anyone know for sure how these VoIP provider gateways are being broken into? Default passwords? Well known vulnerabilities in the operating system? Stolen access codes?