Cyber Security and the Internet of Things

Owen Roberts

June 13th, 2016

We’re living in a world that’s more connected than we once ever thought possible. Even 10 years ago, the idea of our household appliances being connected to our Nokias was impossible to comprehend. But things have changed now and almost every week we seem to be seeing another day-to-day item now connected to the internet.

Twitter accounts like @internetofShit are dedicated to pointing out every random item that is now connected to the internet; from smart wallets to video linked toothbrushes to DRM infused wine bottles, but the very real side to all the laughing and caution - For every connected device you connect to your network you’re giving attackers another potential hole to crawl through.

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IoT security has simply not been given much attention by companies. Last year two security researchers managed to wirelessly hack into a Jeep Cherokee, first by taking control of the entertainment system and windshield wipers before moving on to disable the accelerator; just months earlier a security expert managed to take over and force a plane to fly sideways by making a single engine go into climb mode. In 2013 over 40 million credit card numbers were taken from US retailer Target after hackers managed to get into the network via the AC company that worked with the retailer. The reaction to these events was huge, along with the multitude of editorials wondering how this could happen… when security experts were wondering in turn how it took so long.

The problem until recently was that the IoT was seen mostly as a curio – a phone apps that turns your light on or sets the kettle at the right time was seen as a quaint little toy to mess around with for a bit, it was hard for most to fully realize how it could tear a massive hole in your network security. Plus the speed of which these new gadgets are entering the market is becoming much faster, what used to take 3-4 years to reach the market is now taking a year or less to capitalize on the latest hype; Kickstarter projects by those new to business are being sent out into the world, homebrew is on the rise.

To give an example of how this landscape could affect us the French technology institute Eurecom downloaded some 32,000 firmware images from potential IoT device manufacturers and discovered 38 vulnerabilities across 123 products. These products were found in at least 140K devices accessible over the internet. Now imagine what the total number of vulnerabilities across all IoT products on all networks is, the potential number is scarily huge.

The wind is changing slowly. In October, the IoT Security Summit is taking place in Boston, with speakers from both the FBI and US Homeland Security playing prominent roles as Speakers. Experts are finally speaking up about the need to properly secure our interconnected devices.

As the IoT becomes mainstream and interconnected devices become more affordable to the general public we need to do all we can to ensure that potential security cracks are filled as soon as possible; every new connection is a potential entrance for attackers to break in and many people simply have little to no knowledge of how to improve their computer security. While this will improve as time goes on companies and developers need to be proactive in their advancement of IoT security. Choosing not to do so will mean that the IoT will become less of a tech revolution and more of a failure left on the wayside.

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