Group shows botnet threat in the future may come from the sky

September 9, 2011 by Bob Yirka weblog
SkyNET drone prototype.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Sven Dietrich, an assistant professor in computer science at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and two of his students have given a demonstration of an aerial drone, that they say could be used to spy on wireless networks, at last month’s USENIX Security Conference. In their presentation, and paper, they say that such drones could be used to move close enough to WiFi connections to eavesdrop or potentially serve as a control unit in a botnet.

The drone, essentially a toy quadricopter (helicopter with four rotors) purchased from a store and configured with a small computer, cameras, software and wireless technology cost the team just $600 to put together, which they say means that almost anyone could construct one and begin using it to listen in on private networks.

While certainly the threat of such a drone eavesdropping on a private or corporate wireless network is rather unsettling, worse is the ease with which such a “toy” could be used to serve as the control unit of a (large numbers of computers infected with code that allows them to be controlled by an outside source. ) Because they would be free from tethers on the ground, law enforcement would find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to track them down to stamp out the botnet. And that’s a very bad thing, because botnets exist primarily to steal valuable information (such as credit card and bank numbers) off of personal computers, though in some cases they are used more as a tool to bring down web portals via denial of service attacks.

Diagrams showing the PAAE (pilot, attack, attack, enlist) procedure used by the SkyNET drone. Black dots represent targets. In b the targets are networks. In c the targets are both networks and hosts.

Dietrich says such a drone could also be fitted with a solar panel to keep the battery charged, which would allow it to park near a vulnerable site and do its dirty work almost indefinitely. To make things even easier for the shady characters who wish to quietly plug in to a weakly protected site, the drone can be directed to its target using a 3G smartphone.

This is not the first time that someone has shown that could be compromised by remotely controlled aircraft. A demonstration of a reconfigured Army following a cell phone signal was shown at the recent Black Hat security conference for example.

The point in these demonstrations is not to scare people, though they most certainly might do just that, but to highlight the risks people and companies take when they don’t properly secure their WiFi networks, and to hopefully incite others to find ways to make future systems more secure so that users won’t be so vulnerable to such attacks.

Explore further: Hovering drone draws rave reviews at CES

More information: SkyNET: a 3G-enabled mobile attack drone and stealth botmaster, www.usenix.org/events/woot11/tech/final_files/Reed.pdf

Abstract

SkyNET is a stealth network that connects hosts to a botmaster through a mobile drone. The network is comprised of machines on home Wi-Fi networks in a proximal urban area, and one or more autonomous attackdrones. The SkyNET is used by a botmaster to commandtheir botnet(s) without using the Internet. The drones are programmed to scour an urban area and compromise wireless networks. Once compromised, the drone attacks the local hosts. When a host is compromised it joins both the Internet-facing botnet, and the sun-facing SkyNET. Subsequent drone flights are used to issue command and control without ever linking the botmaster to the botnet via the Internet. Reverse engineering the botnet, or enumerating the bots, does not reveal the identity of the botmaster. An analyst is forced to observe the autonomous attack drone to bridge the command and control gap. In this paper we present a working example, SkyNET complete with a prototype attack drone, discuss the reality of using such a command and control method, and provide insight on how to prevent against such attacks.

via Technology Review

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13 comments

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Expiorer
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2011
Great idea!
A simple rc helicopter with mounted smartphone (with camera and wifi) controllable using gsm will do the trick.

Scottingham
3 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2011
I just hope these quadcopters don't become synonymous with a police state or big brother.
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 09, 2011
OK, the spying I can get...but fitting a quadcopter with solar panels to make them hover indefinitely? I doubt you can get solar panels that could get enough power to the copter to carry its own weight (let alone that of the rest of the copter)

Now if we were talking mylar blimps then that's another matter.

But the general principle of decoupling the comand an control action from the commanding computer in order to prevent a (non-physical) trace is clever.
NotAsleep
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
Explosive Ordinance Disposal troops have a tool at their disposal: it's a remote control car with the frame replaced by a dump body (think dump truck). They use it to drop explosive charges next to IEDs. Total cost? I think they were $30K a piece, batteries not included

If you're into electronics, please get involved and make some low-cost alternatives to the expensive stuff being used out there. Bright minds are always rewarded
jbeale
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
"...solar panel to keep the battery charged, which would allow it to park near a vulnerable site..."
Park = not flying. That is, land on the roof, or any nearby spot...
Star_Gazer
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
OK, the spying I can get...but fitting a quadcopter with solar panels to make them hover indefinitely? I doubt you can get solar panels that could get enough power to the copter to carry its own weight (let alone that of the rest of the copter)


I think they were just talking about autonomous recharging on the ground and resume flying.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
Flocks of them could share power through resonant inductive coupling, basically, they could rescue each other when out of, or low on power.

Royale
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2011
I think it's a very interesting idea.
My only problem with it is using the name SkyNET. Come on now, let's come up with an original name, especially since it's not an original idea; as they pointed out in the article.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
I think they were just talking about autonomous recharging on the ground and resume flying.

Ah, yes...that makes a lot more sense.
Dug
3 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2011
Before you rush out and shotgun your neighbors kid expensive toy RC helicopter, you need to know the average flight time of these "drones" is under 10 minutes with current battery technology. You aren't going to do a lot of hacking or botnet control with a ten minute flight time. However, if you see a swarm of these little jewels over your house or office, perhaps it's time to go bird hunting.

If you don't have time to watch your 12 o'clock personally, some basic motion sensors would give you an early warning of heli-snoopers above or on landing approach for your roof top. In any case there are very limited applications for helicopter drones. Not so true of their high flying light weight toy airplane drone cousins - obviously.

Crazy_council
not rated yet Sep 10, 2011
Gosh, this is old tec, build the correct craft and it can stay up for hours. Build your own on the cheep

http://diydrones.com/

with a few extras ( gumstick ) you could even have a go at facial recognition, apparently, the uglyer you are, the easyer facial recogintion software works.

to see what people build with this, look for videos that say fpv ( first person video ). diy hackers have these working at distances of 20 miles.
dtxx
not rated yet Sep 11, 2011
Use RADIUS authentication and have Kismet drones monitoring for attacks. Monitor your network for new/unauthorized hosts. Why is this scary?
Royale
not rated yet Sep 12, 2011
dtxx,
I absolutely agree with your comment.
I think this is 'scary' because most people are idiots, and when they hear 'possible attack' they panic.

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