Project Sonar, a new Internet-wide port scan aims to probe everything

Security researchers have launched a new project to scoop up as much publicly available data as possible about Internet-facing systems to expose previously unseen network vulnerabilities without running into trouble with the law.

Project Sonar, a new mega port-scanning project launched by Metasploit founder and chief researcher of pen-testing firm Rapid7, HD Moore, looks to build on previous legal and not-so legal Internet-wide scans. An example of the former is the EFF’s SSL Observatory, and one of the latter is the Internet Census 2012, which gathered data with the help of a 420,000 client botnet.

The new project launches with several open source scanning software tools, such as Nmap, UDPBlast, ZMap and a new tool MASSCAN as well as a repository for scanned data sets, and tips to help other security researchers avoid butting heads with law enforcement and ISPs while scanning the Internet for new vulnerabilities.

For Rapid7, said Moore, it’s also about navigating a tricky area of research for companies (as opposed to individual researchers).

“It’s more of a test run to see if internet wide port scans, as part of an established company, are something that the public will react to. So far we’re doing ok. We’ve got legal counsel set up, we’ve only had a couple of death threats, we’ve only had about five or six calls with angry ISPs and customers, so it’s not doing too bad,” Moore told CSO Australia.

Last year Moore’s project, known as critical.io, scanned millions of open ports and found around 50 million network-enabled devices like printers and routers vulnerable to at least one of three types of attacks on the Universal Plug ‘n’ Play (UPnP) protocol.

The research led to over 200 vendors acknowledging UPnP vulnerabilities in their devices, and, as Moore told Australia’s AusCERT conference this year, death threats and concerns by Chinese law enforcement that his scan was part of an attack on Chinese networks.

ISPs often don’t like port scanning because many intrusion detection systems consider the packets sent during a scan to be an attack, according to Rapid7.

So, one of Project Sonar’s tips is to let the host know about the scan beforehand and to arrange limits on packet rates and bandwidth to avoid unexpected abuse complaints.

The project kicks off with three data sets from Rapid7 researchers, which are publicly available and updated at the scans.io portal hosted by the University of Michigan. The portal’s content is managed by researchers at the university who developed ZMap, an open source network scanner capable of scanning the IPv4 Internet within 45 minutes. The ZMap team’s own research is also available at the portal, but so far, data from the Internet Scan 2012, is not.

One of the datasets includes a trove of SSL certificates, which Rapid7 researchers acquired by scanning every networked device on the Internet with port 443 open. Port 443 is the default port for HTTPS websites, which rely on SSL certificates to encrypt traffic between a browser and website.

Why spend all the time and energy collecting SSL certificates, which is, as Moore said, “dull by itself”?

Besides scouring for compromised SSL certificates or rogue ISPs, which other projects focus on, he’s looking to SSL certificates to map a company’s assets on the Internet and even analyse compromises via SSL revocation rather than having to wait for public announcements.

“Anytime you go to a third party and you want to use your own certificate, you’re own domain name, you have to give them an SSL server and every SSL server that’s out there has now been categorised and matched,” explained Moore.

“The nice thing about SSL is that it’s terrible for virtual hosting. So if you have a machine with three IP addresses on it, you can only really host three SSL websites. You can go further now, but for the most part there’s a one-to-one relationship between IP addresses and the names you have to use to go to that IP. If you don’t use the right name when you connect to the website you get the certificate error. So basically SSL certificates become this really great window into what assets a particular organisation has on the internet as a whole.”

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