Beware the Default Password

During the course of a recent security audit I was rather surprised to find a critical system still running with a default password. The default password has long been the bug bear of many the security admin. At the same time it has been the savior of many of us at one stage or another, desperately locked out from that system, urgently requiring access, and no clue as to what the password is, or might be.

The default password is generally installed by the manufacturer, most often on hardware devices such as routers and wireless access points, but also by software application developers and even on some operating systems, although this is becoming less and less commonplace. The default password exists to allow an administrator initial access, for setup and configuration, and you are generally forced, or at least you should be, to change the password to something more complicated as the configuration advances. Unfortunately, this is not a step that everyone takes.

Worse again, there have been numerous accounts of software and hardware products that have ‘undocumented’ administrative accounts installed. So, even if you took the conscientious step of removing or changing what you thought was the default, you may still be exposed. Take Oracle for example. Pete Finnegan, the self-confessed master of all things Oracle, maintains a web page devoted to the Oracle default password. At the last count, there are more than 600 unique accounts in his list. Mr. Finnegan has some interesting views on how many of these accounts come about to be created in the first instance. He says some “are created by Oracle itself when the database is created. For instance the accounts SYS and SYSTEM, DBSNMP and OUTLN are often created by default when a database is created. If the database is created by using the wizard the problem can be much bigger with 10s 0r 20s of accounts being created simply as part of the database creation”.

It is also the case that further Oracle default users can be created when third party software is installed for use such as BAAN or SAP. The same issues of default users being added to the database can occur when third party development or maintenance tools are added such as TOAD or PL/SQL Developer. An excellent tool that will scan your Oracle implementation for signs of default accounts can be downloaded here. If your organization uses Oracle, there is a strong chance that you will be susceptible.

As recently as February this year, researchers at the University of Indiana published reports that show how attackers could take over your home router using malicious JavaScript code. All is required is for the default password to be in place. Once the router has been compromised, victims can be redirected to fraudulent Web sites, the researchers say. So instead of downloading legitimate Microsoft software updates, for example, they could be tricked into downloading malware. Instead of online banking, they could be giving up sensitive information to phishers. At the heart of the problem is the fact that consumer routers ship with simple, well-known default passwords, like “admin,” which could be exploited by attackers. “Owners of home routers who set a moderately secure password – one that is non-default and non-trivial to guess – are immune to router manipulation via JavaScript,” the paper states.

It is easy to lay some of the blame on the door of the manufacturer. They could be accused of shipping product with poorly configured security settings. Lets face it; it is not hard for them to force the user to change the initial configuration password. But that alone is not enough. What about the ‘undocumented’ password, the one that you don’t even know about?

There are resources available on the Internet that allows you to audit your network devices and software applications. This should be performed as part of your yearly audit schedule. A simple Google search for ‘default password list’ yields hundreds of sites that claim to have the most comprehensive database of default passwords. One of the oldest, and still reliable, can be found here. It makes for some interesting reading and is regularly updated.

Whatever the organization, whatever the choice of software or hardware vendor, the default password is likely to raise its ugly head from time to time. Be proactive and get scanning. You will be amazed at what you may find.

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