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IoT – Discovered first Internet of Things cyberattack on large-scale

10:00 ET, 20 January 2014

Proofpoint discovered more Than 750,000 Phishing and SPAM Emails Launched From “Thingbots” Including Televisions, Fridge

Recently security researchers from Proofpoint uncovered a cyber attack against the Internet of Things (IoT), more than 100,000 Refrigerators, Smart TVs and other smart household appliances have been hacked to send out 750,000 malicious spam emails.

The nightmare comes true, dozens of Zombies are already in our house! In the past weeks I wrote about a Linux worm specifically designed to hit the Internet of Things, unfortunately this is just the beginning because according the forecasts the attacks will increase in the next months.

Up to now, such attacks were only drafted theoretically, this offensive id the proof that attacked based on smart devices are feasible as dangerous, millions of smart household appliances used as weapons of an attack, to identify them it has been coined the term ‘thingBots‘- Thing Robots or botnet of smart devices.


These networks of devices are privileged targets for cyber criminals that abusing their capabilities could launch  cyber attacks in a large-scale.

The attack that Proofpoint observed and profiled occurred between December 23, 2013 and January 6, 2014, and featured waves of malicious email, typically sent in bursts of 100,000, three times per day, targeting Enterprises and individuals worldwide. More than 25 percent of the volume was sent by things that were not conventional laptops, desktop computers or mobile devices; instead, the emails were sent by everyday consumer gadgets such as compromised home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator.”

As explained by the experts at Proofpoint, cyber attacks based in the IoT are very difficult to mitigate, consider that IoT networks are composed of hundreds of thousands of devices, to each node is possible to assign a small task to do, like to send few dozens of requests to a target in a DDoS attack, or send-out a few spam emails. In this way their action will go unnoticed by overall effect could be dramatic as explained in the post.

“No more than 10 emails were initiated from any single IP address, making the attack difficult to block based on location — and in many cases, the devices had not been subject to a sophisticated compromise; instead, misconfiguration and the use of default passwords left the devices completely exposed on public networks, available for takeover and use.”

Internet of things devices are always online, still poorly protected and, often, misconfigured.

Bot-nets are already a major security concern and the emergence of thingbots may make the situation much worse,” “Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur. Enterprises may find distributed attacks increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them.” said David Knight, General Manager of Proofpoint’s Information Security division.

It’s important to understand that the potentiality of such devices is unlimited, the fact that this time they have been used as “spammers” should not deceive us, thingBots could be used in an attack against a critical infrastructure from anywhere in the globe.


IDC estimated that than 200 billion smart devices will be connected via the Internet by 2021, as effect a growing number of IoT -based attacks will target Enterprises and government agencies.


Also in this case we must start to think to develop smart objects considering security by design.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Internet of Things, IoT)







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