IoT proliferation means we need to radically change how we think about security

As society connects more and more devices, security and privacy are taking a big hit. Vendors are rushing to market with products that have been barely tested for security, and so the risks grow exponentially, year after year.

Four years from now, Internet of Things manufacturers will ship an estimated tens of millions of devices per year. While Internet-connected gizmos offer tremendous benefits in terms of simplifying mundane tasks, they come with equal doses of risks.

Simple “things”

In a 2016 report, research firm Gartner identified – with a fair degree of accuracy – the top 10 IoT technologies that would dominate the market in 2017 and 2018. Anticipating IoT will have a major impact on organizations, Gartner topped the list of challenges with none other than IT security – and rightfully so. At the time, the technological think tank said:

“The IoT introduces a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices themselves, their platforms and operating systems, their communications, and even the systems to which they’re connected. Security technologies will be required to protect IoT devices and platforms from both information attacks and physical tampering, to encrypt their communications, and to address new challenges such as impersonating ‘things’ or denial-of-sleep attacks that drain batteries. IoT security will be complicated by the fact that many ‘things’ use simple processors and operating systems that may not support sophisticated security approaches.”

Gartner’s last remark couldn’t be more right. For all their complex capabilities, IoT gadgets lax security features and security management. Perhaps the most evident example of this problem is the “baby monitor” case from 2014, when two parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, heard a male voice screaming at their infant child through their baby monitor. The device had been hacked by a bad actor, solely because he could do so.

Such attacks are actively carried out across a sea of IoT devices, including the smart-home appliances we rely on every day, even for security – (i.e. the garage door).

Complex trade-offs

The report further anticipated the following problems with the IoT world (emphasis ours):

“The processors and architectures used by IoT devices define many of their capabilities, such as whether they are capable of strong security and encryption, power consumption, whether they are sophisticated enough to support an operating system, updatable firmware, and embedded device management agents. As with all hardware design, there are complex trade-offs between features, hardware cost, software cost, software upgradability and so on.”

Technological trade-offs are a key culprit of IoT cyberattacks. A processor lacking horsepower to secure itself essentially invites hackers to compromise the device.

Factory-broken

Now, here is where Gartner hits home:

“Traditional operating systems (OSs) such as Windows and iOS were not designed for IoT applications. They consume too much power, need fast processors, and in some cases, lack features such as guaranteed real-time response. They also have too large a memory footprint for small devices and may not support the chips that IoT developers use. Consequently, a wide range of IoT-specific operating systems has been developed to suit many different hardware footprints and feature needs.”

Since the vast majority of IoT devices are designed to “get along” so well with everything, they are vulnerable from the moment they leave the factory. It’s a problem Bitdefender anticipated when it set out to create BOX – the security hub for today’s connected homes. Bypassing the need to install a custom-built security solution on every smart device, BOX remotely secures your every Internet-connected device from afar, even when you leave the house.

It will be interesting to see how Gartner’s predictions, and indeed our own, will pan out into 2018 and beyond, as vendors flood the market with more and more Internet-literate devices and the promise to make our lives easier, more enjoyable and – we hope – more secure.

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