IoT Warning: FBI Says More Devices Equal Bigger Attack Surface

September 15, 2015 @ 9:08 AM
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2 min read

Suddenly, every device is smart. From home security products to televisions, thermostats and even kitchen appliances, manufacturers are marketing the idea of an always-connected lifestyle — the Internet of Things (IoT) — for all they’re worth. The problem? According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the spread of Internet-capable devices “also increases the target space for malicious cyber actors.” But what do new attack vectors look like, and what steps can users take to defend their online interests?

An All-Out Attack

As noted by the IC3 warning, networked devices can now take almost any form. If they’re hacked, there could be serious consequences not just for digital data but the physical world, as well. At the least worrisome end of the scale are issues like those faced by smart-TV-maker Samsung: Earlier this year users discovered that the television’s voice recognition system would capture and transmit any spoken data to certain third parties, regardless of context, Newsweek explained. The company’s Smart TV privacy policy pulled no punches: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Next on the list are hacks to more sensitive technology like baby monitors. According to Fusion, a recent security test of nine different baby monitor models found that all came with significant security flaws. The biggest worry? That every camera came with a hidden or hard-coded account that consumers couldn’t change. Likely meant to serve as access for support or other admin functions, the practical effect is that attackers get an open door to almost any monitor on the market. It gets worse: As noted by Computerworld, researchers from the University of South Alabama recently hacked pacemakers and insulin pumps to kill robot mannequin “patients.” Bottom line? Compromised IoT devices are a big deal.

IoT Is a Popular Risk

Despite the emerging risks, however, many companies are still on the path to significant IoT adoption. A recent Datamation piece noted that 68 percent of IT pros are under pressure to adopt smart devices and other Internet-accessible technologies even if they’re not entirely secure. This is a scenario where the ends justify the means: Increased efficiency now is worth the challenge of network defense or data recovery later.

So where does this leave device users and security professionals? For the moment, they’re caught between a router and a network. New IoT devices offer real promise, but defensible software and hardware architecture simply isn’t part of the native design process just yet. According to the FBI, however, there are ways to reduce the possibility of an attack. First, companies are well-served by isolating IoT devices on protected networks, along with disabling the universal plug-and-play protocol on any routers. It’s also critical to change any default passwords and opt for devices made by manufacturers with a track record of solid security.

The best advice is to consider both need and potential solution: Is an Internet-connected device required or merely a novelty? In other words, is going IoT the ideal fit? In some cases, absolutely; but in others, choosing a proven, secure device over a flashier connected alternative is the best course of action.

The Internet of Things is enjoying rapid uptake among consumers and businesses alike. Not taking the time to curate and secure network-connected devices, however, may shift the terminology to the Internet of Threats.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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