PowerPC and the Western Digital My Book Live debacle

Users relying on the Western Digital My Book Live and My Book Duo NAS systems had an ugly surprise last week when they were abruptly and remotely reset to factory default, erasing all their data. A combination of multiple exploits and Western Digital commenting out a password check appear to be responsible not only for the injury of data loss, but also the added insult of being infected with malware at the same time to join a botnet.

The interest to us here is that the WD My Book Live and Duo family are 32-bit PowerPC devices, more specifically the 800MHz Applied Micro APM82181, which is an enhanced 90nm PowerPC 440 core with additional DSP instructions called the PPC 464. The PowerPC 464FP used here includes a 7-stage pipeline and floating-point unit, and the APM82181 adds a DDR2 controller (256MB onboard) and 256K of RAM configurable as L2 cache. You can boot Gentoo and OpenWRT on it, all of which is unsurprising because the My Book Live basically runs Debian. Western Digital has not issued updates for this device since 2015 and many distros (including Debian, starting with stretch) have dropped 32-bit PowerPC support, though it is still supported in the kernel (except for the PowerPC 601) and these operating systems plus Void PPC and others still support the architecture generally.

The attack abuses a zero-day (CVE-2021-18472) to drop a malware executable named .nttpd,1-ppc-be-t1-z. This is a 32-bit PowerPC-compiled ELF binary and is part of the Linux.Ngioweb family, which in its most recent iteration "supports" 32 and 64-bit x86, MIPS, ARM (32/64) and PowerPC, and there are rumours it's been spotted on s390x (!) and Hitachi SuperH. There is no "preferred device" and the new presence of this malware on PowerPC hosts simply means the authors write good portable code and are expanding to more targets (we'd rather they were porting more generally useful applications, of course).

The upshot of all this is platforms are only as good as their security. There's nothing about the vulnerability which is specific to PowerPC, merely to the spin of Debian they use and what they've layered on top of it. WD recommends disconnecting these NASes from the Internet, and technically as IoTs they probably shouldn't be out naked on a WAN in the first place, but a better idea is to put something on them that's actually supported and maintained. It's fortunate that these devices are "open enough" that you can do it. What about the systems or hardware that aren't?


  1. Debian still supports PowerPC big-endian. It's Tier-3 or Tier-2, but not Tier-1.
    A few distrubutions, like Fienix or MintPPC are based on it:




  2. Replies
    1. No. Debian unstable. It's called sid.

      ATM, old stable is Stretch.


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