The Internet of Things…Smart Devices and how they are used in cyber-attacks

Posted on: 30 November 2016
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This month we are looking at smart devices that connect to the internet and how they can be (and have been) easily compromised for use by criminals and activists.

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Recently in the media you may have heard about the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), Smart Devices and how they have been used in recent cyber-attacks.

IoT simply refers to everyday objects or devices (both consumer and business) that have an internet connection and are able to send and receive data, usually without any human involvement. These items could be anything from fridges, TV’s, printers, baby monitors, CCTV cameras, even cars and buildings.

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Unfortunately many of these devices are manufactured and distributed with little or no inbuilt security, often having a default standard password set up on each device. This is why we ensure anything that connects to the internet has the appropriate security built-in and that it is activated.

The Internet Storm Centre at the SANS institute, regularly tests the vulnerability of devices that are connected to the internet that have not been correctly patched or secured. Their testing regularly find’s that devices are discovered by ‘hackers’ and quickly compromised in as little as 5 minutes after connection!

You may not have heard of the recent cyber-attacks on websites that try to expose these ‘hackers’ and educate us on the need for security (krebsonsecurity). Recent attacks on Dyn, the company that manages the routing of a large part of the internet, affected many well-known sites and made them inaccessible, such as Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, Sound Cloud, PayPal, Reddit and parts of the Amazon web services.

The attack Dyn suffered was called a ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ attack (DDoS) which interrupted their Domain Name System (DNS) services, which is the way to translate a web address into an IP address that a computer understands, and then continued to attack the Dyn systems. This meant that the companies named above, who used the services of Dyn to connect and route web traffic, effectively dropped off of the internet and people were unable to connect to their web pages.

It is also suspected that a similar method was used, earlier this month, to affect the internet connections for the entire country of Liberia.

Devices that were classified as belonging to the IoT were identified as the source of the attack on Krebsonline and Dyn, many had been compromised with a well-known piece of malware called Mirai. Due to the seriousness and implications for all users of the internet, the US Government security arm, National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), has issued technical details for manufacturers on how to build their devices so they are resilient and trustworthy.

But until these new guidelines are incorporated into IoT devices, if you have any devices that have internet connectivity, from a home printer to a baby monitor or CCTV unit, then if possible you should always change the default passwords that come with them. Otherwise you could find your ‘fridge starts a cyber attack on your TV!

Graeme Wolfe

Information and IT Security Officer

30/11/16

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