Plug-and-Play Flaws Leave Millions of Devices Vulnerable: Researchers

A scan of the Internet reveals there are millions of devices running old, vulnerable versions of the Universal Plug-and-Play (UPnP) protocol.

More than 50 million Internet addresses house a device that is vulnerable to one of three known flaws in the Universal Plug-and-Play (UPnP) protocol, according to vulnerability management firm Rapid7.

Taking a page from their previous research on video-conferencing systems, Rapid7 researchers scanned the entire addressable Internet looking for devices that responded to UPnP requests. A variety of systems—from routers to network printers to Internet-connected cameras—behind more than 80 million addresses, or about 2.2 percent of the Internet, were found to be vulnerable, HD Moore, chief security officer for Rapid7, said in a blog post on the research.

"The results were shocking to say the least," he wrote. "All told, we were able to identify over 6,900 product versions that were vulnerable through UPnP. This list encompasses over 1,500 vendors and only took into account devices that exposed the UPnP SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) service to the Internet, a serious vulnerability in and of itself."

To conduct their survey, Rapid7's researchers scanned every routable IP address on the Internet each week for almost six months. The company found that devices running at 81 million unique IP addresses responded to universal plug-and-play requests, with 50 to 60 percent believed to be vulnerable to at least one remotely exploitable flaw. More focused scans of the systems found that about 17 million devices exposed the authentication layer, known as UPnP Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), to the Internet. Those devices could be attacked through the firewall, Rapid7 stated in a research report.

"This level of exposure far exceeded the expectations of the researchers," Moore stated in the blog post.

The company urged Internet service providers and businesses to takes stock of their UPnP-enabled devices and evaluate them for risk. The vulnerabilities allow the devices to be remotely attacked, Moore said.

"We strongly suggest that end users, companies and ISPs take immediate action to identify and disable any Internet-exposed UPnP endpoints in their environments," he wrote. "UPnP is pervasive. It is enabled by default on many home gateways, nearly all network printers and devices ranging from IP cameras to network storage servers."

Internet service providers should consider pushing an update to ISP-managed consumer devices to disable UPnP and, if the feature cannot be turned off, to consider replacing the devices. Businesses should scan their networks for vulnerable devices. Rapid7 provides a free scanner to enable businesses to find vulnerable devices so they can update the software or upgrade the device to mitigate the vulnerability.

While the company worked with the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC) to notify vendors, Rapid7 held out little hope that the flaws would be eradicated.

"Unfortunately, the realities of the consumer electronics industry will leave most systems vulnerable for the indefinite future," Moore wrote. "For this reason, Rapid7 strongly recommends disabling UPnP on all Internet-facing systems and replacing systems that do not provide the ability to disable this protocol."

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...