2023, May 25
·
Security
·
7 min read
·
Matt S.

What Is UPnP? How To Disable It?

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) enables devices' intercommunication and network discovery. However, disabling UPnP enhances the security of your network.

Universal Plug and Play, or UPnP, is an advanced network protocol promoting seamless and hassle-free device communication. It simplifies the setup of devices on your network, including but not limited to routers, printers, and smart home devices such as security systems or thermostats. The central goal of UPnP is to make device discovery and connection setup as easy and intuitive as possible. It achieves this by allowing devices to autonomously communicate and interact with one another without the need for manual setup by the user. This means that your devices can find each other on the network, establish connections, and start communicating without human intervention.
While this might sound like a dream come true, especially for those who struggle with tech, it's important to note that there are potential risks involved with using UPnP. One of the core functions of UPnP is to automatically open ports on the network, which is how it makes connecting devices so effortlessly. However, this can inadvertently create openings for unauthorized access.
This automatic connection capability, while convenient, introduces potential network security risks. Unprotected or poorly secured devices can be exploited, making them susceptible to malware attacks and data breaches. What's more, cybercriminals can take advantage of UPnP vulnerabilities to remotely access your devices. Once they've gained access, these hackers can steal personal data, infect your devices with harmful malware, or even cause your entire network to crash, disrupting your connectivity and potentially causing significant damage.
What kind of devices and apps have UPnP? Here's a complete list of UPnP AV media servers and clients - click here.

How does UPnP work?

Here's a simplified version of how Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) works when working with different devices:
  • Device Joins the Network
    : When connected to a network, UPnP-enabled devices send a "hello" message to the network.
  • Addressing
    : The network's DHCP server assigns each UPnP device an IP address.
  • Discovery
    : The device sends a discovery message over the network to ask, "Is there anyone out there?"
  • Response
    : Other UPnP-enabled devices on the network respond to the discovery message with information about their capabilities, such as device type, associated services, etc.
  • Control
    : The new device can now send commands to other devices. For example, it can enable a media player to stream a video.
  • Device Leaves the Network
    : When a UPnP device leaves the network, it sends a "goodbye" message to other devices on the network, informing them that it will no longer be available.
All of these steps happen automatically without any user intervention. This is one of the critical advantages of the UPnP, but also a potential security risk that will be discussed in the next chapter.

UPnP Risks

The Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) protocol is invaluable for facilitating device interconnectivity. However, this convenience can come at the cost of enhanced security risks, turning the advantages of UPnP into potential vulnerabilities.
One of the significant security concerns is the protocol's automatic port-forwarding capability. Designed to ease device connection, this feature can unwittingly expose your network to external threats. Without requiring manual configuration or user consent, UPnP can open network ports to enable device communication. However, the same ports can also serve as entry points for unauthorized access. Your network becomes an open invitation to anyone or anything prowling the digital world, including potentially malicious actors.
Unsecured devices connected to your network can fall prey to these threats. With their defenses down, devices become susceptible to various cyber threats, such as malware attacks, data breaches, and remote infiltrations. Cybercriminals adept at exploiting UPnP vulnerabilities can gain unauthorized access to your devices, exfiltrate sensitive personal information, or inject malicious code that causes system instability, network slowdowns, or even complete crashes.
Another considerable security flaw lies in UPnP's lack of built-in authentication measures. This omission means that any device can connect to your network without verification of its authenticity or intent. This loophole can be exploited by rogue devices or threat actors aiming to siphon off your data or other nefarious activities. Essentially, the absence of authentication measures makes your network a prime target, jeopardizing your digital privacy and overall data security.
Moreover, the convenience of UPnP can backfire when it overrides existing security settings on your network or connected devices. In its quest to ensure seamless device communication, UPnP may unintentionally loosen or disable security settings, thereby increasing the vulnerability of your devices to cyber attacks. This unintentional override can lead to an escalated exposure to risk, leaving your devices and data at the mercy of any lurking cyber threats.

UPnP Cyberattacks

The risks associated with UPnP aren't merely theoretical; they happened in numerous real-world cyberattacks since 1999. Even the FBI once issued a recommendation to deactivate UPnP. For example, here are some notable cyberattacks that exploited UPnP vulnerabilities:

The Flash UPnP

This attack compromised a victim's network when a user navigated a compromised webpage. Then the Flash app autonomously sent a post-forwarding request to the user's router. Given UPnP's autonomous nature, the router accepted the request's access, exposing the network.

The Pinkslipbot

Pinkslipbot, also known as Qakbot or Qbot, was a banking trojan that leveraged UPnP to infiltrate victim devices and perform various actions. It extracted sensitive data from the devices and turned them into proxies, making illicit activities.

The Mirai Botnet

In late 2016, the Mirai botnet attack launched DDoS attacks against multiple high-profile targets. The attackers manipulated UPnP technology to breach networks and exploit CCTV cameras. It caused internet blackouts across significant portions of the East side of the US.

How to Disable UPnP?

Disabling UPnP is a relatively straightforward process, although the exact steps can vary depending on your router's specific make and model. The first step is to access your router's settings. To do this, open a web browser and type your router's IP address in the address bar. This IP address is usually something like 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1. Suppose you need clarification on your router's IP address. In that case, you can find it in your router's user manual or the manufacturer's website. Additional tip, if you are struggling to find your network name, please read our blog posts about SSID - read more.
Once you've logged into your router's settings (you may need to enter a username and password), look for a section or tab labeled "Advanced Settings," "Network Settings," or something similar. In this section, there should be an option for UPnP. This will typically be a checkbox or a toggle switch.
To disable UPnP, simply uncheck the box or switch the toggle to the "off" position. Be sure to save and apply the changes before exiting your router's settings. Some routers may require you to restart the router for changes to take effect.
Please note that some devices and applications may stop working correctly after disabling UPnP because they rely on UPnP to establish network connections. If you encounter issues, you must manually configure these devices and applications to work with your router. This might include tasks like manually opening ports for specific applications.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) brings significant ease and convenience for device intercommunication and network discovery. However, the decision to disable UPnP can undoubtedly enhance the security of your home network, acting as a preventative measure against vulnerabilities. When deciding whether or not to disable UPnP, it is critical to assess how such a change could impact your devices. Some devices rely heavily on UPnP to operate, and turning it off could disrupt their performance.
Taking proactive measures to secure your network and devices can go a long way, especially regarding your data and privacy. While disabling UPnP is just one strategy, it should not be viewed as a standalone solution. Instead, it is just one of the steps you can take toward better digital security.
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