Criminals are taking advantage of a bug in the Asterisk Internet telephony system that lets them pump out thousands of scam phone calls in an hour, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation warned Friday.
The FBI didn't say which versions of Asterisk were vulnerable to the bug, but it advised users to upgrade to the latest version of the software. Asterisk is an open-source product that lets users turn a Linux computer into a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone exchange.
In so-called vishing attacks, scammers usually use a VoIP system to set up a phony call centre and then use phishing e-mails to trick victims into calling the centre. Once there, they are prompted to give private information. But in the scam described by the FBI, they apparently are taking over legitimate Asterisk systems in order to directly dial victims.
"Early versions of the Asterisk software are known to have a vulnerability," the FBI said in an advisory posted Friday to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. "The vulnerability can be exploited by cyber criminals to use the system as an auto dialer, generating thousands of vishing telephone calls to consumers within one hour."
The software, developed by Digium, has been available for nearly a decade, and a number of critical flaws have been found in the software. In March, researchers at Mu Dynamics reported a bug that could allow an attacker to take control of an Asterisk system.
Digium wasn't certain what vulnerability the FBI was referencing in its advisory. However John Todd, the company's Asterisk open-source community director, believes that it was probably this March bug. That vulnerability "basically allowed you to take over the account of one individual," he said. "In the worst possible case, you could make thousands of calls in an hour."
However, the attack described by the FBI would be extremely hard to pull off, Todd said.
Most Asterisk systems are protected by firewalls or other security software and even if one could be accessed by a visher, administrators generally limit the number of calls any one account can make simultaneously, he explained. "Most of the time you would not be able to create thousands of calls in an hour."
The flaw affects older versions of Asterisk but not the most current version 1.6, he said.