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What is Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and why is it dangerous? | #itsecurity | #infosec | #hacking | #aihp


The dangers of UPnP!

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a protocol that makes it easy for devices to communicate with each other. You use UPnP every day without even knowing it. For instance, your laptops and tablets in your home use UPnP to recognize your printer automatically. UPnP is also in use when you make Alexa play a favorite song saved on your phone. 

Most people, however, enjoy the convenience of UPnP, unaware of its security risks. Cybercriminals can exploit the UPnP protocol to steal your private data and confidential information. 

In this article, I’ll tell you what UPnP is and explore some practical strategies to reduce UPnP cyberattacks. You’ll also learn about the top software you can use to increase your data protection.

Now let’s go into more detail about the dangers of UPnP technology.

What Is Universal Plug and Play?

UPnP is a set of network communication rules or protocols that devices use to discover and connect with other devices over a network. When a new device joins any network, it follows the Universal Plug and Play protocol below:

  1. Obtains an IP address.
  2. Broadcasts its name and details.
  3. Reaches out and communicates with other devices already on the network.
  4. Learns the details of preexisting devices.

All existing devices can now communicate with the new device.

The above steps happen automatically. You don’t have to configure anything. This protocol also works on non-IP networks, like Bluetooth or RFID; examples include:

  • Connect quickly to new peripheral devices like printers and speakers to all other network devices.
  • Add game consoles to online servers for streaming online games. 
  • Stream content from your computer to other devices like smart TV.
  • Connect a mobile device to other systems like security, temperature, lights, etc.

Now, let’s discuss the dangers of this technology in more detail.

Why Is UPnP Dangerous?

UPnP is dangerous because it leaves your network vulnerable to all cyberattacks. Generally, this protocol poses 2 main risks because it:

  1. Assumes all devices on the network are trustworthy and doesn’t include any authentication process. 
  2. Allows third parties to bypass your network security, such as firewalls, and send traffic directly to all network devices.

If any user downloads malware, it can use UPnP to spread to all other devices on the network. Cybercriminals can also exploit this vulnerability to launch all types of planned attacks on your network. I’ll talk about some of the common types of cyberattacks below. 

How Do Cybercriminals Exploit UPnP?

Criminals exploit Universal Plug and Play security risks by first breaching your network in several different ways like:

  • Brute force attacks: trying out all types of letter and number combinations to guess your password.
  • Phishing emails: tricking your network users to download suspicious files.
  • Insider data leaks: making your employees lose or sell their passwords.

Once cybercriminals have network access, they install a malicious program, like a virus or worm. The malware pretends to be a new network device and initiates the UPnP protocol with your router. Then, the router follows this protocol and accepts the request. In turn, the malicious software can communicate freely with all other network devices. The malware becomes an authorized device on the network and adds a backdoor to your system. Cybercriminals can use this to bypass all network security through the backdoor. They also can install other programs on your network. Even worse, you may not detect the backdoor for months. Cybercriminals get ample time to achieve objectives. Here are some of the things a cybercriminal can do once they bypass your security:

  • Ransomware attack: encrypt your stored data and demand money to return access.
  • Data breach: steal your sensitive data for profit.
  • Hijack: remote control your network devices by changing your Wi-Fi, IP settings, or admin passwords.
  • Bot attack: use your compute resources like internal memory and processing power to launch large-scale attacks on others.
  • Spy: Monitor your network activity to report back to competitors.

You may find all this information scary, but a solution exists. Of course, the best way to eliminate UPnP security risk is to disable your UPnP router. However, if you still want to enjoy the convenience of UPnP, you can also use some other solutions. Let me show you how! 

How to Prevent UPnP Security Risks?

Other than disabling UPnP altogether, you can use 2 main ways to prevent UPnP security risks.

1. Enable UPnP-UP

Universal Plug and Play User Profile (UPnP-UP) is a security add-on that adds authentication to the UPnP protocol. Routers with UPnP-UP ask you to authorize all new devices that try to connect using UPnP. As a result, you get more control over your network security. That said, the main challenge with this solution is that your router manufacturer should implement UPnP-UP inside the router’s software. Furthermore, even with UPnP-UP, the router code may still have bugs that cybercriminals can exploit.

2. Deploy Cybersecurity Software

A better option to manage UPnP security risk is to use cybersecurity software solutions for total network protection. Security software continuously scans and monitors network traffic for suspicious activity. They also can detect malware and send real-time alerts. As a result, they block malware from spreading throughout your network.

Now, let’s take a look at the top network protection software on the market for you to consider.

Top 3 Network Protection Software

Here are the top 3 solutions to manage your UPnP security risk. You can also use them to protect the rest of your network with their many security features. Let’s start with the best, KerioControl!

1. KerioControl

This shield can protect you from anything!

KerioControl is a hybrid solution that puts an advanced firewall between your devices and cyber threats from the web. It has a Snort System feature that continuously monitors inbound and outbound traffic. And this feature is customizable, just like KerioControl’s proprietary firewall. 

This software can protect your network from most known cyber threats, like trojans, ransomware, worms, keyloggers, and various forms of spyware. With powerful scanning features, it provides timely reports on both active and potential threats. This way, you can address them before cybercriminals can act. 

Another crucial component of this software is the KerioControl VPN (Virtual Private Network). This feature can empower your digital workforce with streamlined, more secured access to your cloud-based apps. 

Key features:

  • Round-the-clock traffic monitoring
  • Configurable traffic rules and logs
  • Advanced tracking of most types of known malware
  • Cutting-edge firewall 

2. NordVPN

Illustration of the NordVPN logo on the top and text stating NordVPN on the bottom.
NordVPN for your security needs!

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a network security system that hides your IP address from the internet. All your online traffic passes through encrypted connections, which lead to privately-owned VPN servers. 

Nord VPN is widely regarded as the ultimate VPN provider, offering many unique features, such as dark web monitoring, advanced threat protection, the Meshnet system, multi-factor authentication, and more. 

Key features:

  • Fastest VPN on the market
  • Multi-factor authentication 
  • Complete protection by hiding internet traffic and IP
  • Vast network of 6,000 private servers across 59 countries

3. Varonis

Illustration of the Varonis logo.
Manage your UPnP security risks.

Varonis is a premier software company that has developed a comprehensive cybersecurity platform comprising cloud security, privacy, threat detection & response, and data protection solutions. With its automation engines, you can customize privileges regarding data access remotely. You also can configure custom data transport rules. Finally, you can gain visibility over your online traffic.

 Key Features:

  • DatAdvantage & DatAdvantage Cloud feature for visualizing and prioritizing the top risks
  • Automation engine for automatic repairs and file maintenance
  • DatAlert feature for monitoring assets for unusual behavior
  • Edge perimeter telemetry for increased security
  • Data classification engine & labels

You can implement any of the solutions above to secure your network and still enjoy the benefits of UPnP. Let’s summarize everything we’ve discussed so far on UPnP cybersecurity.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, UPnP is a network technology that facilitates communication between devices on the same network. Unfortunately, due to design flaws, cybercriminals can exploit the technology. The best way to protect against UPnP is to keep the feature disabled on your routers. That said, if you want to enjoy the convenience and ease of use UPnP brings, you should use the advanced network protection software options I discussed above.  

Do you have more questions? Learn more about UPnP by reading the FAQs and Resources below.

FAQ

What happens if I turn off UPnP?

If you turn off UPnP, your router won’t accept inbound authentication requests. It also won’t connect to other devices automatically. Instead, you’ll need to connect your devices to the router. Then, you’ll have to configure their network settings manually. 

Is UPnP needed for gaming?

You’ll need UPnP for gaming only if you use multiple consoles or want to play many online games simultaneously. Many people use UPnP without knowing it. And when you disable it, you can’t play online anymore. You’ll have to reactivate Universal Plug and Play.  

Is it safe to enable UPnP on my router?

The UPnP technology isn’t harmful on its own. That said, it makes your home or office network vulnerable to cyberattacks. UPnP is safe to enable if you use data protection software to reduce the security risk. Otherwise, you create an easy opportunity for criminals to access your network. 

What is UPnP on Wi-Fi?

Universal plug and play (UPnP) on a Wi-Fi router allows all devices in reach to connect to the same network and each other automatically. UPnP on Wi-Fi works the same as UPnP on any other router. You’ll also require data protection software to manage security risks of UPnP on Wi-Fi.

Is UPnP better than port forwarding?

Port forwarding is a method to connect a private network with the public internet. You manually determine which devices in your network can exchange data with third-party websites outside your network. On the other hand, UPnP is a technology that automatically does port forwarding for all network devices. So, it increases the risk of a cyber-attack by an infected system on the network.

Resources

TechGenix: Newsletters

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TechGenix: Article on Home Network Security 

Read how to optimize home network security with these 10 simple steps.

TechGenix: Article on Network Protocols for Your Business

Explore network protocols and how they can bolster your business.

TechGenix: Article on Managing Network Vulnerabilities

Read about exploitable network vulnerabilities. 

TechGenix: Article on Network Malware

Learn more about malware commonly used against Windows devices.

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