Hackers Abuse Google Cloud Platform to Attack D-Link Routers

DNS hijacking

Three waves of DNS hijacking attacks against consumer routers have been linked back to Google Cloud Platform abuse.

Hackers have been abusing Google’s cloud computing service to redirect and intercept web and mail traffic on an array of vulnerable consumer routers.

A researcher said that he has seen the Google Cloud Platform being abused to carry out three separate waves of DNS hijacking attacks over the past three months targeting D-Link, ARGtek, DSLink, Secutech, and TOTOLINK routers. DNS hijacking is an attack that causes router traffic to be redirected and sent to malicious websites.

“All exploit attempts have originated from hosts on the network of Google Cloud Platform,” said Troy Mursch with Bad Packets Report in a Thursday report. “In this campaign, we’ve identified four distinct rogue DNS servers being used to redirect web traffic for malicious purposes.”

The first wave was launched Dec. 29 and targeted D-Link DSL-2640B, D-Link DSL-2740R, D-Link DSL-2780B and D-Link DSL-526B, redirecting their traffic to a rogue DNS server in Canada. The second wave of attacks, launched Feb. 6, also targeted these same types of D-Link modems and was also redirecting traffic to a DNS server in Canada.

The third and latest wave, on March 26, targeted ARG-W4 ADSL routers, DSLink 260E routers, Secutech routers, and TOTOLINK routers. This campaign redirected traffic to two rogue DNS servers, both hosted in Russia.

Once attackers have launched a successful DNS hijacking attack, “they can use rogue DNS server to redirect any/all network traffic of the target device that uses DNS services to resolve a domain to an IP address,” Mursch told Threatpost. “This is especially applicable to web traffic as users typically never type an IP address directly in their web browser. Due to this, users can be maliciously redirected to phishing sites or have advertisements injected on pages. The latter is done by hijacking the domain of well-known advertising platforms to insert ads that make money for the threat actor.”

Mursch predicted that more than 17,000 devices may have been impacted.

While Mursch couldn’t list how many routers were specifically impacted, he said that more than 14,000 D-Link DSL-2640B routers were exposed to the public internet, and 2,265 TOTOLINK routers. The researcher also did not specify specifically how adversaries attacked the routers.

However, he pointed out that in years past the DNSChanger malware has been prolific, raking in $14 million in advertising-related fraud for cybercriminals behind it. In addition, Mursch told Threatpost, most of the CVEs used to exploit vulnerable D-Link routers are already well-known,  including several remote DNS Change exploits.

DNS hijacking attack

Vulnerable Routers

The various waves of attacks have all used Google Cloud Platform hosts.

“While we cannot say for certain the same threat actor was behind the keyboard for all cases, it is highly unlikely [Google Cloud Platform] was randomly abused multiple times for conducting DNS hijacking attacks,” Mursch told Threatpost. “To note, the only DNS hijacking exploit attempts detected by our honeypots in the last three months were from GCP hosts – so we aren’t singling them out as one specific provider being abused.”

Attackers first used Google’s cloud service capabilities to scan for vulnerable routers that could be exploited.  Other researchers have noted domain parking remains a booming business often tied to illicit activities.

They then used Google’s platform to remotely configure the routers to their own DNS servers, using malicious code.

It is easy to abuse this platform, said Mursch – anyone with a Google account could access a “Google Cloud Shell” machine easily, a service that provides users with the equivalent to a Linux VPS [Virtual Private Server], giving them root privileges directly in a web browser.

Also making the attacks easy is the fact that Google is slow to respond to reports of abuse, he said.

“Being a large cloud service provider, dealing with abuse is an ongoing process for Google,” Mursch said. “However unlike their competitors, Google makes it very easy for a miscreants to abuse their platform.”

A Google spokesperson said that Google has suspended the fraudulent accounts in question and are working through established protocols to identify any new ones that emerge.

“We have processes in place to detect and remove accounts that violate our terms of service and acceptable use policy, and we take action on accounts when we detect abuse, including suspending the accounts in question,” said the Google spokesperson. “These incidents highlight the importance of practicing good security hygiene, including patching router firmware once a fix becomes available.”

DNS hijacking attacks redirect queries to a domain name server via overriding a computer’s transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) settings – generally by modifying a server’s settings. These types of attacks could help bad actors carry out advertising-related fraud or phishing attacks, Mursch said.

The attacks could have more insidious purposes as well. In January, a slew of attacks aimed at multiple government domains triggered the Department of Homeland Security to issue an emergency directive ordering all federal agencies to urgently audit Domain Name System (DNS) security for their domains.

Mursch for his part stressed that consumers keep their home router firmware up-to-date to prevent exploits.

“When security vulnerabilities are discovered, they are usually patched by the manufacturer to mitigate further attacks,” he said. “It’s also advisable to review your router’s DNS settings to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.”

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