Known vulnerability stays unpatched for five years, exposes router info

For years, security professionals have sounded like a broken record with warnings to keep Internet of Things devices up to date. Yet their message was not heeded, and vulnerabilities that should no longer exist can still be used to harm device owners.

A security issue in Linksys Smart WiFi routers lets an unauthenticated hacker anywhere in the world obtain device information that can be used to pinpoint geographical location. The gadget also leaks data that can help prepare an attack to compromise it.

At the moment of the discovery, over 25,000 vulnerable devices were exposed on the internet. This is not a new vulnerability that hackers are rushing to exploit. On the contrary, it has been public since 2014, identified as CVE-2014-8244, but it has remained unpatched ever since.

Researcher Troy Mursch, co-founder of security company Bad Packets, found that almost half of the affected Linksys routers were in the United States. Multiple models are impacted, including AC gigabit routers released in 2016 that still have high price tags, such as WRT3200ACM, which sells for $249.

According to Mursch, an unskilled remote hacker can not only learn the geographical location of a vulnerable router (based on its public IP address) but they can also find the full history of MAC addresses for gadgets that connect to it. This address is a unique identifier that also reveals the name of the device maker.

Mursch says that the operating system powering it is also revealed to the attacker. He adds that, in some cases extra details are available, such as the type of the device, manufacturer, model number, and description.

Even if the vulnerability does not directly lead to compromise, the information it leaks is valuable as it accelerates the reconnaissance stage of an attack. The data shows what devices a user may have on the network and makes hacking it easier.

The worst part is that these Linksys devices may never be patched. Although the flaw has been public knowledge for five years, the maker did not patch it. Mursch reported it and the reply he received was that the issue was “not applicable” and wouldn’t be fixed.

The researcher says that, if Linksys decides to issue a patch, more than half of the affected routers would immediately stop leaking the sensitive data because they have automatic firmware updates turned on. A different solution that could mitigate such a risk is a hardware security appliance that protects all devices in the house at network level and defends against hacker attacks.

Image credit: Linksys

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