Mozi Botnet Accounts for Majority of IoT Traffic

mozi botnet iot

Mozi’s spike comes amid a huge increase in overall IoT botnet activity.

The Mozi botnet, a peer-2-peer (P2P) malware known previously for taking over Netgear, D-Link and Huawei routers, has swollen in size to account for 90 percent of observed traffic flowing to and from all internet of things (IoT) devices, according to researchers.

IBM X-Force noticed Mozi’s spike within it’s telemetry, amid a huge increase in overall IoT botnet activity. Combined IoT attack instances from October through June is 400 percent higher than the combined IoT attack instances for the previous two years.

“Attackers have been leveraging these devices for some time now, most notably via the Mirai botnet,” according to IBM. “Mozi continues to be successful largely through the use of command-injection (CMDi) attacks, which often result from the misconfiguration of IoT devices. The continued growth of IoT usage and poor configuration protocols are the likely culprits behind this jump. This increase may have been fueled further by corporate networks being accessed remotely more often due to COVID-19.”

Mozi first sauntered onto the scene in late 2019 targeting routers and DVRs, and has been analyzed a couple of times by various research teams. It’s essentially a Mirai variant, but also contains snippets from Gafgyt and IoT Reaper – it’s used for DDoS attacks, data exfiltration, spam campaigns and command- or payload-execution.

IBM observed Mozi using CMDi for initial access to a vulnerable device via a “wget” shell command, then altering permissions to allow the threat actor to interact with the affected system. Wget is a command-line utility for downloading files from the web.

“CMDi attacks are extremely popular against IoT devices for several reasons. First, IoT embedded systems commonly contain a web interface and a debugging interface left over from firmware development that can be exploited,” according to the firm’s analysis, published Wednesday. “Second, PHP modules built into IoT web interfaces can be exploited to give malicious actors remote-execution capability. And third, IoT interfaces often are left vulnerable when deployed because administrators fail to harden the interfaces by sanitizing expected remote input. This allows threat actors to input shell commands such as ‘wget.'”

Mozi’s DHT Attack Routine

In Mozi’s case, the wget command downloads and executes a file called “mozi.a” on vulnerable systems, according to IBM. Researchers said that the file executes on a microprocessor. Once the attacker gains full access to the device through the botnet, the firmware level can be changed and additional malware can be downloaded, depending on the goal of any specific attack.

Mozi constantly updates the vulnerabilities that it tries to exploit via CMDi, banking on slow patch implementation, IBM noted. This is an activity that can be easily automated, which accelerates Mozi’s growth. In IBM’s latest analysis, the sample was using exploits for Huawei, Eir, Netgear, GPON Rand D-Link routers; devices using the Realtek SDK; Sepal SPBOARDs; MVPower DVRs; and multiple CCTV vendors.

In addition, it can also brute-force Telnet credentials using a hardcoded list.

Once it cracks a device, the Mozi botnet attempts to bind local UDP port 14737, and it finds and kills processes that use ports 1536 and 5888. Its code contains hardcoded distributed hash table (DHT) public nodes, which are then used to join the botnet’s P2P network. DHT is a distributed system that provides a lookup service allowing P2P nodes to find and communicate with each other.

Click to enlarge. Source: IBM.

“The Mozi botnet uses a customized DHT protocol to develop its P2P network,” according to IBM.

In order for a new Mozi node to join the DHT network, the malware generates an ID for the newly infected device. The “ID is 20 bytes and consists of the prefix 888888 embedded in the sample or the prefix specified by the config file [hp], plus a randomly generated string.”

This node will then send an initial HTTP request to http[:]//ia[.]51[.]la to register itself, and it also sends a DHT “find_node” query to eight hardcoded DHT public nodes, which is used to find the contact information for a known Mozi node, and then connected to it, thus joining the botnet.

The Mozi botnet infrastructure appears primarily sourced in China, accounting for 84 percent of observed infrastructure, IBM said.

Rise of the P2P Machines

P2P botnets are increasingly common. Just this year, the FritzFrog botnet hopped onto the scene, actively breaching SSH servers since January. FritzFrog propagates as a worm, brute-forcing credentials at entities like governmental offices, educational institutions, medical centers, banks and telecom companies.

Since the beginning of the year, a P2P coin-mining botnet known as DDG has seen a flurry of activity, releasing 16 different updates by April. Most notably, its operators have adopted a proprietary P2P mechanism that has turned the DDG into a highly sophisticated, “seemingly unstoppable” threat, according to researchers.

And late last year, a P2P botnet named Roboto was found targeting a remote code-execution vulnerability in Linux Webmin servers.

The P2P architecture is popular with cybercriminals; it offers greater resiliency than other types of botnets because control is decentralized and spread among all nodes. As such, there’s no single point-of-failure and no command-and-control server (C2).

As for Mozi, IBM warned that the IoT landscape will continue to be a rich hunting ground for botherders.

“As newer botnet groups, such as Mozi, ramp up operations and overall IoT activity surges, organizations using IoT devices need to be cognizant of the evolving threat,” the firm concluded. “IBM is increasingly seeing enterprise IoT devices under fire from attackers. Command injection remains the primary infection vector of choice for threat actors, reiterating how important it is to change default device settings and use effective penetration testing to find and fix gaps in the armor.”

Threatpost has reached out for more information on Mozi’s share of IoT traffic.


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