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What is UPnP and why you should disable it immediately

UPnP enables quick device connection to your network without manual setup. Nonetheless, it may inadvertently offer entry points for hackers, posing a risk to your devices’ security. This article discusses both the benefits and potential drawbacks of UPnP, along with suggestions for safeguarding your network.

What is UPnP and why you should disable it immediately

What is UPnP?

UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) is a networking protocol designed to facilitate automatic port management for apps and devices seeking to communicate with each other. With UPnP, no manual setup is required; adding a new device to your network enables it to seamlessly connect with existing devices. Essentially, UPnP streamlines port forwarding, simplifying what would otherwise be a laborious manual process. For instance, without UPnP, linking a printer to all devices in your household would necessitate individual connections to each device. However, UPnP automates this task.

The concept of zero-configuration entails that no manual setup is needed for devices within your network to discover and integrate a new addition. With UPnP-enabled devices, joining a network, acquiring an IP address, and establishing connections with other network devices occur automatically, offering significant convenience.

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What is UPnP used for?

UPnP offers multiple avenues to enhance your online experience.

  • Gaming: Utilize UPnP to connect gaming consoles such as Xboxes and the Nintendo Switch for streaming online games.
  • Remote home surveillance: Employ UPnP to access your home cameras remotely while you’re away.
  • Digital home assistants: Integrate UPnP with devices like Echo Dots to enhance their functionality.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices: Utilize UPnP for wireless home automation, including controlling smart lighting, internet-connected thermostats, and smart locks.
  • Media streaming: Stream content seamlessly with UPnP-enabled media servers.
  • Internet TV streaming: Enjoy streaming videos through devices like Roku sticks or Apple TV with the assistance of UPnP.

How does UPnP work?

UPnP leverages four standard networking protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP, XML, and SOAP) to automate the opening and closing of ports. Operating on a client-server model, UPnP involves control points (clients) seeking UPnP servers (devices). The UPnP process encompasses six primary stages:

  • Addressing: Devices under UPnP either assign themselves an IP address or request one from a DHCP server.
  • Discovery: UPnP devices announce themselves to other devices within the network.
  • Description: Control points (clients) utilize the HTTP protocol to retrieve device descriptions containing essential details like manufacturer information, serial numbers, driver specifics, and URLs. This data is structured in an XML format.
  • Control: Utilizing the SOAP protocol, messages are exchanged between device URLs, enabling remote control functionalities.
  • Eventing: A notification system is established to alert control points when a state variable undergoes a change.
  • Presentation: If a device offers a presentation URL, the control point retrieves a webpage from the URL to be displayed in a browser. This enables users to potentially control the device or monitor its status via the browser interface.

Why isn’t UPnP safe?

Initially, UPnP was designed to operate solely at the LAN level, restricting connections to devices within the local network. However, numerous router manufacturers now enable UPnP by default, rendering devices discoverable from the WAN, thereby exacerbating security concerns.

UPnP lacks authentication or authorization mechanisms for most devices, presuming that connecting devices originate from the trusted local network. Consequently, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access. For instance, they may identify your router on the broader network and masquerade as a legitimate device, such as an Xbox, by sending a UPnP request to your router, which grants access without scrutiny.

Once infiltrating the network, hackers can:

  • Attain remote access to other devices linked to the same network.
  • Install malware on your devices.
  • Pilfer sensitive information.
  • Utilize your router as a proxy to conceal illicit activities on the broader network. This includes disseminating malware, stealing financial data, launching phishing or Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. By leveraging your router as a proxy, all such malicious activities appear to originate from your network, masking the hacker’s identity.

Should UPnP be enabled or disabled?

Disabling UPnP is crucial for maintaining your security. Keeping UPnP enabled compromises the safety of your network and its connected devices, potentially exposing vulnerabilities to hackers.

As highlighted in the preceding section, leaving UPnP active exposes you to online risks. While UPnP may offer convenience, the associated dangers outweigh the benefits. If you require port openings on your router, it’s advisable to handle them manually on an as-needed basis rather than relying on UPnP as a permanent solution.

Is UPnP better for gaming?

One potential justification for considering the use of UPnP is for gaming purposes. Undoubtedly, UPnP simplifies the gaming experience by automating the process. Instead of manually configuring port numbers for each device or online game, UPnP handles this task for you. Nevertheless, exposing your network to cyberattacks is inherently risky, irrespective of the convenience it offers.

What happens if I turn off UPnP on my router?

If UPnP is disabled on your router, it will stop processing incoming requests, requiring manual configuration for device setups. Consequently, the router won’t automatically open ports on your LAN, even for legitimate requests.

However, this change doesn’t prevent you from accessing devices on your network or playing online games. It simply adds more steps. You’ll need to set up port forwarding rules manually for each connection, which can be time-consuming and may require technical expertise. Nevertheless, there are online tutorials available to help with specific port forwarding procedures.

How to enable or disable UPnP

Follow these steps to enable and subsequently disable UPnP on your router. Please note that the process may vary slightly depending on your router model:

  • Ensure your device is connected to the router’s network, then open a web browser.
  • Enter your router’s IP address into the browser’s address bar.
  • This action should open your router’s interface, where you’ll need to input a username and password. If these credentials are not listed on the back of your router or in the accompanying documentation, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can provide them.
  • Look for a section within your router settings labeled “Advanced” or “Advanced Network”, which should include a tab for UPnP.
  • Within the UPnP tab, you should find a checkbox to enable or disable UPnP.
  • If you choose to enable UPnP, input a duration in minutes into the “Advertisement Time” field (the standard setting is typically 30 minutes).
  • Additionally, if UPnP is enabled, you may encounter a field labeled “Advertisement Time to Live in Hops” or similar. The standard value for this field is “4”, but it can be adjusted if UPnP is not functioning optimally.
  • Click “Apply” or a similar option (such as “Save”) to finalize the changes.

How to protect yourself

When it comes to addressing UPnP router vulnerabilities, there are two options to consider for protecting yourself.

Firstly, you can choose to enable UPnP-UP (Universal Plug and Play – User Profile), which offers authentication and authorization mechanisms for UPnP devices and applications. However, this method isn’t foolproof, as some devices may not fully support it and may still assume that other devices connecting to your router are trustworthy.

Alternatively, a more secure approach is to disable UPnP entirely. Before doing so, it’s advisable to check whether your router is vulnerable to UPnP exploits. Additionally, you should consider whether you’re willing to sacrifice the convenience of UPnP and whether you have the capability to set up your devices manually. This might require some technical expertise.

Conclusion

While UPnP simplifies device connectivity, its inherent security risks demand attention. Whether leveraging UPnP-UP for authentication or opting to disable UPnP, prioritizing network security is crucial. By understanding UPnP’s benefits, risks, and protective measures, users can make informed decisions to safeguard their network and devices effectively.

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