The Internet of Things is all fun and games until a racist takes over your printer

A white supremacist hacker sends racist documents to thousands of publicly-exposed connected printers.

The IT departments at universities around the country just got a wake-up call about their exposed Internet-enabled printers.

Last week, thousands of connected printers, largely at U.S. colleges and universities, began printing out racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant messages. In all cases, the printers had port 9100 exposed, and turned up in searches using Masscan, a mass IP port scanner. All it took was five lines of code to take them over.

The hacker responsible for the racist printouts was Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who detailed the attack in a post on Storify. Speaking to The Security Ledger, Auernheimer said he was trying to demonstrate to his fellow white supremacists the insecurity of Internet of Things devices, and the ease with which someone might carry out an attack on these devices.

Auernheimer has a long history of online harassment and trolling, but may be best known for his role in a 2010 hack of AT&T, which exposed the e-mail addresses of more than 114,000 new Apple iPad owners. In 2012, Auernheimer was convicted of felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse act, and spent about a year in jail before an appeals court overturned the verdict. After his release, Auernheimer claimed to have become a white nationalist.

While Auernheimer says he used Masscan to discover the exposed printers, he noted that the subscription-based search engine Shodan would have worked just as well. Security experts have used Shodan to warn about Internet of Things vulnerabilities for years, and the engine recently added a way to find exposed security cameras.

Why this matters: Usually when we hear about security issues in connected printers, cameras, smart TVs, cars, and other connected products, the danger is theoretical, and the vulnerabilities are patched before they can do any real damage. It’s much rarer to see a malicious hacker execute an attack on a large scale, but that’s exactly what happened here. While the attack itself is deplorable, it may actually succeed in getting people to take security more seriously; as Security Ledger notes, at least one university is now planning to put a firewall in place to block further attacks.

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