Imagine: You’re sitting at home on a conference call for work and, unbeknownst to you, hackers have gained access to the files you’re sharing on the call. How did they do this you ask? It’s really quite simple: through your smart home IoT devices. Because IoT devices like smart fridges, garage doors, home alarms, baby monitors and even toasters are connected to the same wireless network used to host your conference call, hackers can hijack those vulnerable, unsecure devices and gain full access to everything happening on your network. Soon enough, you might discover that they’ve gained access to your organization’s customer data, business plans and internal financial reports.
IoT devices are inherently insecure and there are a myriad of real-world examples of this very kind of occurrence. Take the massive denial of service (DDoS) attack on the Internet traffic company Dyn in 2016. The attack affected major Internet platforms and services such as Airbnb, Amazon, Box and PayPal, to name a few. It was later discovered that the attack targeted over 100,000 Internet-connected devices such as IP cameras, printers, residential gateways and baby monitors to install Mirai malware. The Mirai malware then overwhelmed Dyn-hosted sites with traffic so that they were forced to deny service to users.
The Mirai botnet is only one example. Recently, cybersecurity researchers at Black Hat 2017 proved that the mechanical components of an automated car wash could be hacked, including the entrance and exit doors, dangerously trapping the passengers of the vehicle inside. The hack was achieved by gaining access to internet-connected operating system running the car wash parts, which was protected only by a default password, readily accessible on connected device archival networks, such as the Shodan Network.
Despite these examples, only a handful of IoT device manufacturers are taking heed. As more consumers purchase connected devices – an integral part of the smart home – it’s worth taking a few precautionary measures to prevent the device from wreaking real havoc.
- Segment IoT Devices: Most people don’t have two wireless connections in the home, which could make segmenting a challenge, but it’s really quite easy and entirely necessary. A lot of recent 5G networks come with a 2.4G or option with a weaker bandwidth, just in case the higher bandwidth has performance issues. If you have two networks, set up the IoT device on the network with the lower bandwidth and keep it there. You could even create a separate network for all of your IoT devices, if you want to be on the safe side. Make sure to create a different password for your IoT device network so that if hackers commandeer the device, they can’t access private information.
- Change Default Passwords: This tip should really be the first direction in any IoT device instruction manual, but it rarely is. The moment that you begin the installation process for an IoT device, make sure to change the default password to something that’s hard to guess and not the same as other passwords that you commonly use. Even using your telephone number presents a risk as hackers could somehow access that information. This step is crucial as the passwords of connected devices are available over the Internet (see the car wash example).
- Create a Back-Up Plan: If some of the critical systems in your home are connected devices, make sure that you have a back-up plan in place in case they go haywire. This may seem like a silly enough step, but hacker’s goal is often to inflict physical and psychological damage on their targets in order to extract a ransom payment. A go-to strategy would be to disconnect and reset all of the IoT devices if they start acting out of line, but sometimes even those steps can’t remediate the problem. Try to consult with an expert or cybersecurity professional at the point of purchase and ask them about a continuity plan, or data back-up if the device stores information.
IoT devices are quickly becoming the mainstay of home appliances which is why it’s important to know the risks and have strategy in place that will help you recover in case the connected device is compromised. Until IoT device manufacturers are required to integrate security software into their products, make sure you are taking precautions while implementing connected technology.
National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) is all about sharing knowledge to promote a safer and more secure internet environment for all users. Inform your peers when you hear of threats to stop them from spreading and always remain wary of what you search, receive and send over the internet. Awareness and education are the best ways to beat hackers!