Another – now not so – new term circulating over the past year or so is the phenomenon known as the, ‘Internet of Things’ or IoT. An expression many of us have become accustomed to which refers to objects, household items, appliances and – as they say – THINGS, which are connected to the internet.
Many cyber security experts have been pointing out concerns over the IoT and how we can keep ourselves protected as our fridges, TVs, light bulbs and the surprising list goes on, have the ability to fire out data and information, where no command from the user is required.
A vulnerability in LIFX smart LED light bulbs was reported via the BBC, the concern lay in the messages being transmitted between bulbs and the network. Within the light bulb – to – light bulb conversation WIFI passwords, and credentials were being passed potentially putting control of the lights into hacker’s hands. Luckily this flaw was identified by Context Security and manufacturer, Kickstarter-based brand LIFX has now patched up the issue.
If you didn’t think it could get much stranger than online lightbulbs, in a recent article I read just had to squeeze in this last item which really shows the diversity of IoT – Chopsticks! Yes, chopsticks, the kind which flash a blue light if the food it touches is fresh and safe to eat, or red if the meal is a no go! With this idea I can see the practicality, developed by the ‘Chinese Google’ – Baidu, the sensor-attached chopsticks can identify contamination levels, temperature and calories of your meal. The ‘smart-chopsticks’ come with an app to display these findings, Business Insider reported the product is not yet ready for public release but has had great results so far. Check out the YouTube video to see them in action. Although I have to say, if I was ready to tuck into my favourite meal and the little blighters flashed up red… I may find myself just reaching for a fork?!
These connected devices have been created to make our lives that little bit easier, tell us we’re out of milk, allow us to stick the heating on while in Starbucks, pop the sprinkler on, and even monitor your home surveillance from your smartphone, including the baby monitor! So, at what point in this joyful my-life-is-so-much-easier mood do we stop and think about how secure all of this data being catapulted into the network or cloud actually is?
The tale to make you STOP and think!
Well one story I read a couple of months ago on Forbes.com which should shock the blissful ignorance out of some IoT users is the story of Foscam, a global IP camera producer based in China. Foscam was also at the centre of a security story that involves two concerned (and pretty damn techie) fathers testing the operating system of the baby monitor Foscam camera. With some pretty worrying results.
Sergey Shekyan and Artem Harutyunyan, both studied software engineering at university together, before becoming neighbors (for a second time) and then Shekyan became a father and purchased a cheap baby monitor for $40. It was this low price-tag that caused him to become suspicious, a camera which could send texts and emails could not possibly be doing so correctly/safely for the low price. So the investigation began.
As I said these guys were software engineers, not security researchers or the likes. They sent requests to the operating systems to find out how easy the devices were to hack remotely, “If someone has physical access to your devices, you’re pwned,” says Harutyunyan. They made connection requests to see if they could force the camera to perform software updates, which should be refused when the devices identifies the incorrect /non-existent signature cryptographically assigned to the update. “You can’t force an update on an iPhone, for example. We figured out the Foscam will accept just about anything. But it’ll brick” Serygey told Kashmir Hill of Forbes.com. And they did ‘brick’, all ten of them
All of the above being said, they also found a French security researcher, on a Foscam forum, who had identified that any Foscam could be logged into, simply using the password, admin. Yes, really, it still happens!
With the IoT is appears the functionality, useful-ness (for lack of a better word) and promotional tactics came before the consideration of security, surprising in today’s world with 400 serious data breaches this year, as at July 2014. However, the key concern with these devices is the simplicity of configuration, including (VERY) poor passwords applied, with no real request to users to change these to more complex options.
This is just a selection of some more recent (or indeed, more shocking) examples of the security and privacy risks surrounding the connectivity being integrated into day-to-day things. Analyst group IDC predicts the growth of this market will continue resulting in an estimated 212 billion devices making up the Internet of Things by 2020.
Yes, according to the Guardian article reporting that Gartner have identified IoT alongside wearable tech, consumer 3D printing and autonomous vehicles, as all being at the “peak of the Hype-Cycle”. So as the IoT hype is ‘peaks’ so will the interest of cybercriminals, ready to adapt attacks for the latest devices. It just happens to be a fridge for example as opposed to the latest iPhone device, they will find a way, as it seems they have already found a way.
HP conducted a study on 10 of the most popular devices, here’s a quick run-down of the figures;
· 60% did not use encryption when downloading software updates
· 70% of devices used unencrypted network services
· 70% of cloud/mobile devices allow attackers to view user accounts
· 80% of cloud/mobile devices failed the requirement of a sufficiently complex password
· 90% of devices gathered at least one piece of personal info (…if you ask me one is enough!)
Is there anything we can do?
Taking all of the above into account, this concept is one we are going to have to get our heads around and start planning the security landscape around the collective of online devices vastly taking over society. Hence the aim from the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) to boost the development of IoT, while creating a communications framework reflecting the industry standards to control the information exchanged between IoT devices.
The OIC encompasses Dell, Intel, Samsung, Amtel and others to collaborate security on devices which transmit information through an internet connection. As stated on the OIC website the benefits of having an ‘interoperable’ approach which is scalable, will become apparent for companies, developers, right down to the end users (well the end users concerned with consistent security and privacy levels).
So there is optimism with the IoT growth booming to 26bn by 2020, and with this optimism comes concern, however keep an eye on the OIC’s progress in placing industry standards. Finally if at minimum I can give you this as a basic rule, don’t cheap out on anything that is connecting to the Internet – even down to a lightbulb, well so long as you care about your personal privacy and online security.
Which I hope ya’ll do…or you’re reading the wrong blog.