March 30, 2016
Motherboard reported on the hack, spearheaded by controversial hacker and internet ‘troll’ Andrew Aurenheimer, known as ‘weev’, which used “two lines of code to make 20,000 printers, many in colleges and universities, spit out an anti-Semitic flyer all over the United States”. The site noted that he showed “just how easy it is to use insecure internet-connected printers to spread hateful racist propaganda”, and found that over 14,000 machines are “still open” to hacking.
The exploit ‘weev’ used “quickly made the rounds on social media and local news”, with staff at institutions able to “make sure their printers aren’t set up in a way that lets anyone, from anywhere in the world, abuse them”, but after the incident – despite a few seeming to “have gotten the message” – over 14,000 printers “are completely open to hackers”. This was discovered by searching Shodan, a search engine for internet-connected devices.
Motherboard highlighted that “while this might be seen as good news, it’s probably too little too late. And it’s not like colleges and universities had not been warned before”. 10 years ago, security researcher – Adrian Crenshaw – reportedly warned that “many printers were programmed to accept any printing job sent over the internet” to port 9100, which ‘weev’ exploited, and two years ago, another research – Shawn Merdinger – encouraged users to remove printers from the internet.
Merdinger had noted in 2014 that around 38,000 machines were vulnerable, stating after this latest hack that “I’m only surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. Printer security is basically a joke […] and it’s the elephant on the network”. Former NSA (National Security Agency) researcher Dave Aitel also tweeted that ‘weev’ “could have sent an update to the printer’s firmware with a similar command to the one he used last week, bricking the printers”.
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