The mystery behind the Internet-of-Things vigilante malware

Pierluigi Paganini October 02, 2015

A new strain of malware identified by Symantec as the Vigilante malware, aka Wifatch, has infected tens of thousands of IoT devices across the world.

Who is infecting thousands of IoT devices across the world, and why?

A new strain of malware, identified by Symantec as Linux.Wifatch has infected tens of thousands of IoT devices across the world, but the strange thing is that the botmaster hasn’t used them for any illegal activities.

The backdoors set up by Wifatch would allow a potential attacker to use bots for different activities, from DNS poisoning and traffic redirection to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. However, the threat actor seems to have a different purpose, it scans the web search for compromised IoT devices by searching for most popular malware signatures. If it discovers the presence of a malware on a device and it is able to hack it, Wifatch disables telnet to keep others out.

For this reason, the expert avoided to call the malware Wifatct and are calling it “Internet of Things (IoT) vigilante.”

Symantec has identified tens of thousands of devices infected with the vigilante malware across the world, most of them are routers and IP cameras.

Wifatch is designed to target several the principal IoT architecture, analyzing the victims by architecture we can observe that compromised devices are based on ARM (83%), followed by MIPS (10%), and SH4 (7%).

The majority of the infections was observed in China, followed by Brazil (16%), Mexico (9%), India (9%), Vietnam (7%), Italy (7%), Turkey (7%), South Korea (5%), and the United States (5%).

the vigilante malware distribution

The vigilante malware has been spotted for the first time in November 2014 thanks to an independent researcher that noticed some suspicious processes on his home router. The experts at Symantec have been monitoring the malware since March 2015.

The researchers speculate that the “Internet of Things (IoT) vigilante” malware was that work of someone that apparently monitors routers and other IoT devices from threat actors.

The malware is developed in Perl, but experts noticed that each instance of the vigilante malware detected uses its own Perl interpreter. The botnet uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) model that makes it very efficient.

The vigilante malware, aka Wifatch, scan the Web for devices that it can infect over Telnet, also in this case exploiting poorly configured systems likely IoT components using weak credentials. Once the vigilante malware infects a device, it allows botmaster to control it by using commands signed with a private Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) key.

It is interesting to note that when the vigilant malware gain the control of an IoT device, it informs users trying to connect over Telnet that the service has been disabled for security reason and even provides recommendations for preventing attacks.

Wifatch’s code is not obfuscated; it just uses compression and contains minified versions of the source code. It would have been easy for the author to obfuscate the Perl code but they chose not to. The threat also contains a number of debug messages that enable easier analysis. It looks like the author wasn’t particularly worried about others being able to inspect the code.” state Symantec in its analysis. “The threat has a module ( that seems to be an exploit for Dahua DVR CCTV systems. The module allows Wifatch to set the configuration of the device to automatically reboot every week. One could speculate that because Wifatch may not be able to properly defend this type of device, instead, its strategy may be to reboot it periodically which would kill running malware and set the device back to a clean state.”

The author of the Vigilant malware seems to be an expert in cryptography and he its botnet implements security mechanisms that make it resilient to cyber attacks, the experts confirmes the usage of the Tor anonymity network for hiding control infrastructure.

Stay Tuned!

[adrotate banner=”9″]

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Vigilante malware, IoT malware)

you might also like

leave a comment