In­ter­net-con­nected de­vices easy tar­get for hack­ers

New Straits Times - - World -

THESE days, it’s pos­si­ble to use your phone, and some­times your voice, to con­trol ev­ery­thing from your TV to your lights, ther­mo­stat and shades, even your car or med­i­cal de­vice (once you have gad­gets that can lis­ten).

But the Wik­iLeaks al­le­ga­tion that CIA com­man­deered some Sam­sung smart TVs as lis­ten­ing de­vices is a re­minder that invit­ing the “In­ter­net of Things” into your home comes with some risk.

Con­nected de­vices are un­ques­tion­ably pop­u­lar.

Re­search firm Gart­ner ex­pects there to be 8.4 bil­lion con­nected “things” in use this year, up 31 per cent from last year.

By 2020, this num­ber could reach 20.4 bil­lion, with smart TVs and dig­i­tal set-top boxes serv­ing as the most pop­u­lar con­sumer gad­gets.

For busi­nesses, smart elec­tric me­ters and com­mer­cial se­cu­rity cam­eras are ex­pected to be the most pop­u­lar “In­ter­net of things” prod­ucts. Such gad­gets are con­ve­nient, but present easy tar­gets for hack­ers.

In Oc­to­ber, hack­ers seized con­trol of we­b­cams and dig­i­tal video recorders and re­cruited them into In­ter­net “bot­nets” that launched de­nial-of-ser­vice at­tacks against pop­u­lar web­sites, such as Net­flix and Twit­ter, forc­ing them off­line for some users.

There’s a grow­ing call for reg­u­la­tion to se­cure con­nected de­vices, but it’s un­clear whether this will hap­pen.

Last year, the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­leased a re­port de­scrib­ing run­away se­cu­rity prob­lems with de­vices that re­cently gained In­ter­net ca­pa­bil­i­ties, a col­lec­tion that in­cluded med­i­cal im­plants, sur­veil­lance cam­eras, home ap­pli­ances and baby mon­i­tors.

“The grow­ing de­pen­dency on net­work-con­nected tech­nolo­gies is out­pac­ing the means to se­cure them,” De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son said at the time. This was dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion; more reg­u­la­tion ap­pears un­likely un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

For­rester Re­search an­a­lyst Josh Zelo­nis said con­sumers couldn’t wait for the govern­ment to fix things. In­stead, he said, peo­ple have to de­mand that man­u­fac­tur­ers were ac­count­able for the se­cu­rity of their prod­ucts and that they sup­ported the prod­ucts through­out the prod­uct’s life­time, not just when it’s sold.

Which, of course, is far eas­ier said than done.

One prob­lem: many peo­ple don’t re­alise they have to se­cure con­nected de­vices with pass­words like a com­puter.

“Peo­ple don’t think of a tele­vi­sion or a cam­era as a com­puter and that’s all it is,” said Gart­ner an­a­lyst Avi­vah Li­tan.

If a de­vice comes with a de­fault pass­word, it needs chang­ing the mo­ment you hook it up. Sim­i­larly, your Wi-Fi pass­word shouldn’t still be the one it came out of the box; it needs a hard-to-guess passphrase to en­sure that it can’t be eas­ily hacked.

Another prob­lem: cheaper de­vices from no-name com­pa­nies also pose more of a se­cu­rity risk. While big com­pa­nies like Ap­ple, Ama­zon or Sam­sung can patch up se­cu­rity holes as soon as they find them, smaller com­pa­nies don’t have the re­sources — or, some­times, the abil­ity or will­ing­ness — to do so.

“Big­ger com­pa­nies typ­i­cally have more re­sources and more to lose, so they are typ­i­cally more se­cure,” said Pa­trick Moor­head, an­a­lyst at Moor In­sights & Strat­egy.

Pass­word-pro­tect­ing most con­nected de­vices, though, should go a long way to­wards en­sur­ing they won’t be used to take down Net­flix.

“Don’t buy from smaller ven­dors. Don’t buy de­vices that don’t en­crypt data ev­ery­where. And change the pass­word if you can.”

Syd­nee Thomp­son, a 24-yearold from Troy, Michi­gan, is cau­tious, but ul­ti­mately san­guine about her con­nected de­vices.

She has an in­ter­net-con­nected tele­vi­sion, but she’s been re­luc­tant to get a “smart” de­vice like Ama­zon’s Echo home as­sis­tant be­cause of wor­ries that it would al­ways be lis­ten­ing, and that others might also.

But Thomp­son has a smart­phone and as­sumes that if the govern­ment wants to track her, it can.

“If the govern­ment wants to find out some­thing about you, it will. It’s just the world we live in.”

Cameron Matz from Stafford, Vir­ginia, said he planned to keep us­ing smart tele­vi­sions.

“We can’t be afraid to live our life be­cause some­one out in the world is lis­ten­ing in on your con­ver­sa­tion about daily ac­tiv­i­ties.”

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