When Remote Access Becomes Your Enemy

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Patrick Oliver Graf

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As convenient as it would be for businesses to have all their IT service providers working on-site, just down the hall, that’s not always possible. That’s why secure remote access is a component frequently found in the digital toolboxes of service providers that offer maintenance, troubleshooting and support from locations other than where the product or system is being used.

This arrangement makes sense: It saves enterprises time and money.

Yet, that doesn’t mean remote access is always foolproof. Although it’s long been possible to securely implement remote access, sloppy work and carelessness have increasingly created critical vulnerabilities.

In April 2013, for example, it became possible to damage Vaillant Group ecoPower 1.0 heating systems by exploiting a highly critical security hole in the remote maintenance module. The vendor advised customers to simply pull the network plug and wait for the visit of a service technician.

About one year later, AVM, the maker of the Fritz!Box router, also suffered a security vulnerability. For a time, it was possible to gain remote access to routers and, via the phone port functionality, to make phone calls that were sometimes extremely expensive. Only remote access users were affected.

Then, in August 2014, Synology, a network attached storage (NAS) supplier, was affected. In this case, it was possible to gain control over the entire NAS server data through a remote access point.

Finally, at this year’s Black Hat conference in August, two security researchers revealed that up to 2 billion smartphones could be easily attacked through security gaps in software.

It’s clear that these attacks and vulnerabilities are all part of a trend – and they speak to the importance of businesses eliminating remote access security gaps.

Who is Responsible for Securing Remote Access?

There’s no doubt that remote access is an important network feature. IT support speed and troubleshooting capability would be greatly hampered without remote access. It is also needed for mobile workers to establish connections to their corporate networks via a VPN.

VPNs by design are secure and when users implement, maintain and utilize them properly, the technology works perfectly. However, security lapses may occur in cases where a user is unaware that secure remote access has been provided, i.e. it’s more or less a hidden feature, or he does not show any interest in it.

In the Fritz!Box case, the critical issue of increasing digitization in private environments could be seen very clearly. Despite the problem being reported by numerous media outlets and the vendor quickly releasing a firmware update, tens of thousands of routers were still affected, many of them weeks later.

Unfortunately for IT administrators responsible for network security, not every Internet user reads computer magazines and stays up-to-date with information from various news services. Not every router owner has the tech savvy or feels comfortable updating device firmware. They may do the bare minimum – understand the purpose of a VPN and comply with the necessary security policies – but what if they don’t? Or what if they aren’t even aware of security measures?

The value of VPN solutions is that they provide a layer of security protection, for when users unknowingly create security vulnerabilities. This means IT administrators are responsible for improving the security of remote access, by using up-to-date, approved technology and implementing automated update procedures that fix reported bugs quickly and without user intervention.

This was cross-posted from the VPN HAUS blog.

 

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