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Lost In Translation: Hackers Hacking Consumer Devices

New grassroots movement aims to fill the gap between security researchers and the consumer industries that are the subject of their hacking projects
Meanwhile, Terry McCorkle and Billy Rios of Cylance have made some headway with the building management systems industry, where they have unveiled serious flaws, such as the discovery of tens of thousands of these systems sitting on the Internet, exposed.

McCorkle says most people outside the security community don't really understand vulnerabilities in consumer products. "It's natural that people would be questioning, 'what are these guys thinking?'" he says. "But most researchers are just interested in finding the truth and making sure we're secure."

With more embedded IP capability for automation and convenience, consumer devices are also becoming more exposed security-wise. It's a shocker to those industries that their products can be hacked: "They always made the assumption that you can't modify the device unless you're in front of it," he says. "But now they are interconnected ... and connected to corporate networks, and they are getting more exposure. I don't think they fully understand the risk that this represents."

McCorkle and Rios have worked closely with the ICS-CERT on vulnerabilities they've found in building automation systems. Building automation systems are "smart" systems that control HVAC, lighting, physical security, and elevators in office buildings.

Just this week, the InsideIQ Building Automation Alliance, an association of independent building automation contractors, announced that it had teamed up with Cylance to provide its members with building automation security practices and security training as well as certification to the customers of the systems.

These are the systems integrators who install and manage building automation systems for building owners, so they are key to driving better security practices, according to McCorkle, who is consulting director at Cylance. Their knowledge and awareness of security issues then gets to the building system manufacturers, he says. "Manufacturers get a lot of advice from the folks who install in the field—those are their [the manufacturers'] customers.

"We're working with them closely because they're the ones who have the opportunity to make the most changes in the industry," such as recommending VPN access for a building automation system rather than leaving it Internet-facing, he says.

[Using a network of cheap sensors, the home-brewed CreepyDOL system can track people by signals sent from their mobile devices. See Cheap Monitoring Highlights Dangers Of Internet Of Things.]

Legislators also need to be brought up to speed on white-hat hacking. There's a lack of depth in the technical understanding of cybersecurity issues in Congress, for example, Percoco notes, so getting lawmakers better schooled on the risks and issues is also needed via intermediaries, he says.

And the current consumer device research has only scratched the surface of the security weaknesses that will be discovered in an increasingly IP networked and embedded generation of consumer products, Percoco says. "Within the next five years, we will talk about things at DEF CON that we are really afraid of today, such as airplanes, cars, medical devices, and wearable computing."

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