FBI Claims Asterisk is unsafe – what a load of bull

After seeing well too many movies about the US and after visiting the US for a few times, many people tend to disrespect the FBI in the USA. While I have much respect for most law enforcement agencies, wherever these are located in the world, I must admit, that the latest warning from the FBI regarding Asterisk borderlines pure hystria and complete misunderstanding of the actual issue.

On Dec 8th, the FBI had issued the following warning:

New Technique Utilizing Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Systems To Conduct Vishing Attacks

The FBI has received information concerning a new technique used to conduct vishingi attacks. The recent attacks were conducted by hackers exploiting a security vulnerability in Asterisk software. Asterisk is free and widely used software developed to integrate PBXii systems with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), digital Internet voice calling services; however, early versions of the Asterisk software are known to have a vulnerability. The vulnerability can be exploited by cyber criminals to use the system as an auto dialer, generating thousands of vishing telephone calls to consumers within one hour.


Now, after a full weekend of frenzy trying to understand the cryptic warning the IC3 had issues, it was gathered that it is referring to an old time bug, related to Asterisk distributions prior to 1.4.18. Being familiar with the particular bug and the exploitation method – I can say this: They surely have no idea what they are talking about!

The exploitation of the bug requires several pre-requirements:

  • A certain IAX2 configuration has to be deployed
  • A certain version of Asterisk must be used
  • A certain form of dialplan has to be existing
  • You Asterisk server needs to be available on the Internet

Now, even when these 4 are met, the exploitation isn’t all that simple and that straight forward. So, in other words, if you are not utilizing any of the above, you can rest assured that your system is fine. In any case, any system is as secured as the dumbest user (in our case developer/sysamdin) who uses it.

Sierra AirCard 880E and Mandriva Linux

As you probably already learned from a previous post, I’ve switched to Mandriva from my previous FedoraCore distro, running on my home PC and my old ThinkPad T42 notebook.

Recently, I’ve signed up with Cellcom, an Israeli cellular provider for data connection only. I’ve received a Sierra AirCard 880E, which installs easily on Windows and on MacOSX, however, Linux was a little tricky. While reading several sources around the internet, dealing mainly with some shell based scripts – Mandriva is different – simply requires a bit to know the Mandriva framework in order to get it working right.

Step 1: Know where your AirCard is

As the AirCard is inserted to the computer, Mandriva will automatically load the respected kernel module and will automatically assign the /dev/ttyUSB0 device to it.

Step 2: Mandriva Control Center

In the Mandriva control center, launch the network configuartion tool for creating a new connection. Here’s the trick, you need to create a “POTS” connection, not a 3G/EDGE connection. The reason is that the EDGE/3G functionality is maintained by the AirCard itself, Linux has nothing to do it.

Step 3: Configure your connection

I named my connection as Cellcom and setup the following as my dial-in number: *99# – this is very important. Select PAP/CHAP as your login type and set both the username and password to be “cellcom”.

From this point onwards, you should be just fine and up on the network in no time :-)

Zip up, Slim down, let the heads roll…

Like most of the world, I’ve been following the recent market turmoil with a great burden on my shoulder. When you think about it, I’m not a stock broker, nor am I a multi-billionaire that has his funds invested in various stocks and bonds, that a single 0.1% shift in the NASDAQ translates to millions of dollars. I’m a software developer, a freelance one, dealing in the Open Source – and like anybody else, I’m worried about how this crisis immediately affects me.

Today, I came across two items, post on www.themarker.com – Israel’s topmost Internet based financial/business daily. The two items dealt with how three of the better known VC’s in Israel had started instructing their investees to start cutting down costs – mainly, firing people. The three VC’s that I’m talking about are: Carmel Ventures, Benchmark Israel and Sequoia Capital. You are probably wondering why is this interesting? the VC’s in the item had directly instructed their investees to cut down people, costs, operational costs, loose dead weight – in other words, find ways to reduce your costs. Sequoia even out did Carmel and Benchmark, by inviting the investees to a meeting called: “RIP: Good Times”!

Shortly after I finished reading the two items, I got a phone call from a friend working at one of Sequoia’s companies (a well known one in Israel) asking me if he can come work for me. I was surprised, this is the first time I’ve ever read something in the news, and was directly affected by it. As far as I gathered, his company basically took a team of 8 people and reduced it to 2. Now, I completely understand tightening up, but running an operation on a 25% man power is stupid! Running at 50% is manageable, but 25% is down right crazy. For 2 people to do the work of 8, they would need to eat, drink, sleep, live, do everything within the office – I know, I’ve been there. During the year 2003, m-Wise was more or less in the shit. In the year 2002 I had a team that consisted of another SysAdmin and 3 more support techs. In 2003 I was left alone, and I basically did everything myself! – how crazy is that. But again, I decided that I’m not going to have a life for a certain period of time – that is all, not everybody is willing to make that sacrifice.

Now, this case goes hand in hand with my previous post – the migration to Open Source technologies is no longer a myth or a “nice-to-have” issue, it is a matter of business continuity and good expense management. Think about it, the company that fired 75% of their team, could have easily replaced part of their server infrastructure from Windows to Linux, migrate their Oracle database to PostgreSQL and save thousands and thousands of dollars a year, and maybe even save a job or two in the process.

Now, here’s what I think (and I know for fact I’m gonna get slammed here): Hey, VC’s, stop telling the companies to let go people. Sure, get rid of dead weight – no one needs those M$ based shitty, money grabbing, time consuming, hardware intensive environment. Wouldn’t it be better to not pay M$ a few ten’s of thousands of dollars a year, and maybe save a man’s job, or maybe even 2? M$ has enough money of their own, all you are doing is making sure they keep on making money, while the rest are fighting for their lives. Why don’t the VC’s hire Open Source consultants, to help them examine their investees and maybe, just maybe, they will find ways to invest their funds in a wiser way and help these companies to survive the current financial turmoil.

A little security experiment…

Back in the year 1999, long before I started my Asterisk days, I spent most of my time as a security consultant and cyber forensics expert. I remember that in those days, most of the hacks were script kiddies exploiting some Windows IIS well known hole, and you would usually get the “Hacked by Chinese” black display on your website – how annoying!

In any case, I’ve recently replaced my co-location firewall. I’ve migrated from a Linux system running IPtables with a manual script, to a fully blown IPCOP installation. Ok, so IPCOP is nothing more than a fancy GUI for IPtables, but hey, it makes my life a whole lot easier on the management side – and it’s very stable – so who am I to complain?

I’ve decided to run a small experiment, I wanted to setup a Linux box, with a root password of 123456. My question was this, how much time will pass from the moment the machine was up, on a new IP address, till the machine gets hacked – and more importantly, from where and what got installed on the machine?

So, the machine fired up for the first time at Fri Jul 25 23:19, believe it or not, the machine got hacked at Sat Jul 26 00:50. A mere 90 minutes into the air, and the machine got hacked. The funny thing was that at Sat Jul 26 03:09 it got hacked again to the same account, then at Sat Jul 26 03:21, which also closed the root access via SSH at this point. Following below is the last log:

root     pts/0    Sat Jul 26 06:04   still logged in
reboot   system boot  2.6.18-53.1.14.e Sat Jul 26 06:02          (00:17)
root     pts/1    Sat Jul 26 03:21 - 03:24  (00:03)
root     pts/0    Sat Jul 26 03:09 - 05:20  (02:11)
root     pts/1     Sat Jul 26 00:50 - 00:50  (00:00)
root     pts/0    Fri Jul 25 23:24 - 01:39  (02:14)
root     tty1                          Fri Jul 25 23:22 - 23:24  (00:01)
reboot   system boot  2.6.18-53.1.14.e Fri Jul 25 23:19          (07:00)
root     tty1                          Fri Jul 25 22:14 - down   (01:03)
reboot   system boot  2.6.18-53.1.14.e Fri Jul 25 21:58          (01:19)

I admit it, putting a machine on the open net, with a root password of 123456 and open root access to SSH – that’s kind of a honey pot the size of the grand canyon. But what amazed me here was not the speed, but actually the locations of the hacks:, and One hacker is in China, the other in Romania and the third in the UK. What is this? a real hacker? maybe 3 different robots scanning? – I can’t really tell here. However, the traces they left were interesting enough – which lead me to believe we’re talking about robot hacking.

First off, a look at /var/log/audit/audit.log immediately showed the logins – the hacker didn’t even remove the log file – marking of a script kiddie running an automated script. So, what did they leave on my box, let’s take a look. Running ‘netstat -apn | less’ would show me open ports, unless netstat was replaced. However, lets start with this:

tcp        0      0           ESTABLISHED 2940/crond
tcp        0      1           SYN_SENT    2940/crond
tcp        0      1         SYN_SENT    2940/crond

Ok, so this is most probably an IRC bot waiting for instructions from the hacker – till now nothing special. The script tries to masquerade the bot with a legitimate process name: crond. Well, that may fool a beginner Linux Sysadmin, however, seeing crond connecting to 3 other hosts at TCP 6667 – ok, that’s kind’a lame – no?

I wonder where he hid the script? maybe he replaced crond?

root@pbx:~ $ find / -name "crond"
root@pbx:~ $

Hmm… /var/tmp/.www/crond looks promising, let’s see what’s in there:

root@pbx:~ $ ls -la /var/tmp/
total 24
drwxrwxrwt  4 root root 4096 Jul 26  2008 .
drwxr-xr-x 25 root root 4096 Jul 25  2008 ..
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root 4096 Jun 27 17:03 .spd
drwxr-xr-x  4  501  502 4096 Jul 26  2008 .www

Yummy! Let’s check it out:

root@pbx:/var/tmp $ ll .spd/
total 1316
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root    265 Nov 19  2005 gen-pass.sh
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root     72 Jun 26 19:43 pass_file
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root  21407 Nov 19  2005 pscan2
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root    218 Jun 27 16:59 s
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 453972 Nov 19  2005 ss
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 842736 Jun 26 19:20 ssh-scan
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root    312 Jun 27 17:02 x
root@pbx:/var/tmp $ ll .www/
total 888
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    353 Jul 26  2008 1.user
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    349 Jul 26  2008 2.user
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    353 Mar 14  2009 3.user
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    317 Nov  6  2007 autorun
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root      0 Jul 26  2008 belgian.seen
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    942 May 15  2003 checkmech
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502  23237 May 15  2003 configure
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502 492135 Mar  4  2005 crond
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502     48 Jul 26  2008 cron.d
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    171 Jul 26  2008 cutitas
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502   4147 May 15  2003 genuser
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    157 Jul 25 17:36 LinkEvents
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502      0 Oct 15  2007 lucifer.seen
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502   2154 May 15  2003 Makefile
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502     14 Jul 26  2008 m.dir
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502  22882 May 15  2003 m.help
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    748 May 15  2003 mkindex
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502   1043 Jul 26  2008 m.lev
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502      5 Jul 25 17:35 m.pid
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502   1068 Jul 26  2008 m.ses
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502   1675 Mar 25  2009 m.set
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502 167964 Mar 16  2001 pico
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502  84476 Jun 23  2006 pico.tgz
drwxr-xr-x 2  501  502   4096 Jul 23 15:48 r
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    661 Jul 12 22:00 shadow}{700.seen
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    661 Jul 12 22:00 shadow}{800.seen
-rwxr-xr-x 1  501  502    715 Jul 12 22:00 shadow}{900.seen
drwxr-xr-x 2  501  502   4096 Jul 23 15:51 src
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   1842 Jul 26  2008 zak.seen

Looks like .spd is the SSH scanner and the .www directory contains the actual bot binary – ok, I can respect that. The contents of the cron.d file suggested that the script utilizes crontab to verify that the bot is always up and running – and examination of its code assured me of that.

So, what have we learned from the above: just one thing! When installing a server for the first time, DON’T USE A SILLY PASSWORD LIKE 123456 – EVEN NOT FOR THE INSTALLATION PHASE! Scanning robots appear to be scanning the entire Internet over and over and over again, doing so in seconds – so by the time you install your server, set it up completely, there is a good chance it will already be compromised.