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Akamai Threat Research Team Identifies New Abuses of OpenSSH Vulnerability

Attackers Taking Advantage of the “Internet of Unpatchable Things”

Cambridge, MA | October 12, 2016


Akamai Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM), the global leader in content delivery network (CDN) services, today published new research from the company’s Threat Research team. Akamai researchers Ory Segal and Ezra Caltum have identified a recent spate of attacks whereby attackers are using Internet of Things (IoT) devices to remotely generate attack traffic by using a 12-year old vulnerability in OpenSSH, which we are calling SSHowDowN Proxy. A full report detailing the attacks is available for download here /content/dam/akamai/site/en/state-of-the-internet/sshowdown-exploitation-of-iot-devices-for-launching-mass-scale-attack-campaigns.pdf.


It is important to note that the research and subsequent advisory do not introduce a new type of vulnerability or attack technique, but rather a continued weakness in many default configurations of Internet-connected devices. These devices are now actively being exploited in mass-scale attack campaigns against Akamai customers.

The Threat Research Team has observed SSHowDowN Proxy attacks originating from the following types of devices:

  • CCTV, NVR, DVR devices (video surveillance)
  • Satellite antenna equipment
  • Networking devices (e.g. Routers, Hotspots, WiMax, Cable and ADSL modems, etc.)
  • Internet connected NAS devices (Network Attached Storage)
  • Other devices could be susceptible as well


Compromised devices are being used for:

  • Mounting attacks against a multitude of Internet targets and Internet-facing services, such as HTTP, SMTP and Network Scanning
  • Mounting attacks against internal networks that host these connected devices


Once malicious users access the web administration console, they have been able to compromise the device’s data and, in some cases, fully take over the machine.

“We’re entering a very interesting time when it comes to DDoS and other web attacks; ‘The Internet of Unpatchable Things’ so to speak,” explained Ory Segal, senior director, Threat Research, Akamai. “New devices are being shipped from the factory not only with this vulnerability exposed, but also without any effective way to fix it. We’ve been hearing for years that it was theoretically possible for IoT devices to attack. That, unfortunately, has now become the reality.”


Some recommended approaches to mitigation include:

  • If the device offers access to alter the SSH passwords or keys, change those from the vendor defaults.
  • If the device offers direct file system access:
    • Add "AllowTcpForwarding No" into the global sshd_config file.
    • Add "no-port-forwarding" and "no-X11-forwarding" to the ~/ssh/authorized_ keys file for all users.
  • If neither option above is available, or if SSH access is not required for normal operation, disable SSH entirely via the device's administration console.


If the device is behind a firewall, consider doing one or more of the following:

  • Disable inbound connections from outside the network to port 22 of any deployed IoT devices
  • Disable outbound connections from IoT devices except to the minimal set of ports and IP addresses required for their operation.


Akamai continues to monitor and analyze data related to this ongoing IoT threat. To learn more, please download a complimentary copy of the research white paper at /content/dam/akamai/site/en/state-of-the-internet/sshowdown-exploitation-of-iot-devices-for-launching-mass-scale-attack-campaigns.pdf.


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Akamai secures and delivers digital experiences for the world’s largest companies. Akamai’s intelligent edge platform surrounds everything, from the enterprise to the cloud, so customers and their businesses can be fast, smart, and secure. Top brands globally rely on Akamai to help them realize competitive advantage through agile solutions that extend the power of their multi-cloud architectures. Akamai keeps decisions, apps and experiences closer to users than anyone — and attacks and threats far away. Akamai’s portfolio of edge security, web and mobile performance, enterprise access and video delivery solutions is supported by unmatched customer service, analytics and 24/7/365 monitoring. To learn why the world’s top brands trust Akamai, visit, or @Akamai on Twitter. You can find our global contact information at