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.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags hackinghackerPrinter

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?