US Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., is investigating ways to stop hackers from compromising consumer devices, including Internet of Things products.
Warner, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, has asked three federal agencies for data on the available tools, as well as tools that may be needed, to protect consumer devices from hackers.
The IoT market is growing at a rapid pace. Weak security measures in products like smart thermostats and connected cameras can give hackers access to users' information and enable easy entry into their home and business networks.
Weak IoT security also allows hackers to infect network devices with malware and use botnets to send hordes of data to specific websites and servers. This can essentially shut down different sectors of the Internet, such as the massive October 21 DDoS attack that crippled websites including Okta, Twitter, and CNN.
Warner sent inquiries to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), to learn more about how to safeguard network-connected consumer devices..
In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Warner expressed concern about the growing network of infected devices being used to conduct the largest series of DDoS attacks ever recorded. The Mirai botnet has more than doubled since October 1st, he noted, and can be used to flood websites and servers with traffic.
"While the precise form of Mirai's attacks is not new, the scale of these volumetric attacks is unprecedented," he wrote. "The weak security of many IoT devices provides an attractive target for DDoS attackers, leveraging the bandwidth and processing resources of millions of connected devices."
DDoS attacks can enable censorship, criminal extortion, or nation-state aggression, Warner said. Tools like the Mirai source code can potentially shut down swaths of economic activity as well, he added.
Warner's concerns reflect the growing trend in efforts to secure IoT devices. Earlier this year, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) launched a Cybersecurity Assurance Program (UL CAP), which includes a new set of standards that IoT and critical infrastructure vendors can use to gauge security vulnerabilities in their products.
In a step towards better software security, famed hacker Peiter Zatko, aka Mudge, and his wife Sarah, built a ratings system similar to Consumer Reports. The idea is to drive a new approach to software security that puts pressure on creators to build stronger software products.