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Incident Response

IRC Network Freenode Hacked, Passwords Exposed

The popular IRC network Freenode is asking users to change their passwords after some servers have been compromised by an unknown third party.

The popular IRC network Freenode is asking users to change their passwords after some servers have been compromised by an unknown third party.

In a blog post published on Saturday, Freenode staff reported that the breach was uncovered after an anomaly was noticed on one of the IRC servers. Further investigation revealed the existence of compromised binaries on several machines, which have been removed from the network and taken offline.

Because the attackers might have sniffed network traffic, Freenode is advising customers to change their NickServ passwords as a precaution. NickServ is an IRC network service that allows users to register and protect their nicknames.

To change your password use /msg nickserv set password newpasshere,” Freenode staff advised users. “Since traffic may have been sniffed, you may also wish to consider any channel keys or similar secret information exchanged over the network.”

Freenode says it’s in the process of discovering the root cause of the attack.

“[Until] this investigation is complete we cannot be 100% certain that all traces of the compromises have been removed. We may have to ask you to change your passwords again after analysis has completed,” Freenode wrote in a security alert.

With more than 80,000 customers and 40,000 channels, Freenode, which runs Atheme IRC Services and ircd-seven, is said to be the largest IRC network.

The service has often been the target of cyberattacks. For example, in 2006, a hacker gained administrative privileges and took control of the network. Later, in 2010, members of a troll organization developed a script that caused Firefox users to silently connect to Freenode and flood it.

The IRC network has also suffered temporary outages due to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, the last of which was announced on August 29 on the official Freenode Facebook page.

 This isn’t the first time users have been advised to change their NickServ passwords. In mid-April, shortly after the existence of the Heartbleed vulnerability came to light, Freenode asked customers to change their passwords for two reasons: because some servers had been running vulnerable versions of OpenSSL, and because an unauthorized user was allowed to use the “NickServ” nickname for a short period of time.

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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