To ring in the new year, Dark Reading already ran through the list of the most exciting, funny, and just plain zany security predictions for 2016. But what about the prediction most likely to come to pass? Beyond a lot of the "more of the same"-type of predictions, if we had our pick we'd probably vote for one of the most mentioned prognostications to hit our inboxes in the last few months. Namely that 2016 is going to be the year that attackers make a concerted effort to turn the Internet of Things (IoT) into the Botnet of Things.
Until now, there haven't been any reported widespread infections of consumer devices used within large-scale criminal botnets. Two years ago, Proofpoint claimed it found a botnet sending spam that included a smart refrigerator, but that was later called into question by a number of researchers, including one from Symantec in a detailed explainer piece a few days after the initial claims were made. Meanwhile, last fall saw news from Incapsula researchers that the abuse of CCTVs in botnets is on the rise.
"We first warned about them in March 2014, when we became aware of a steep 240 percent increase in botnet activity on our network, much of it traced back to compromised CCTV cameras," the researchers wrote, filling in details with an anecdote of an attack they found that they managed to track back to CCTV cameras at a retail store only about five minutes from their office.
This research shows that if there is an opening--namely unprotected, powerful-enough, well-connected, and largely ignored devices--attackers will take it. While these CCTVs might not be the consumer gadgets most people think of when they imagine the IoT, they fit within a similar profile and this level of infection offers a portent for the future.
"By naively connecting everything to the Internet, we have made our possessions and personal information extremely vulnerable," says Deepak Patel, vice president of engineering for Imperva. "IoT essentially means ‘hey, there's a small computer in there,' and for malicious actors, that also means ‘prey!’"
As he explains, common IoT security gaffes such as hard-coded default credentials and poor patch management are essentially spreading blood in the water for attackers looking for easy marks from which to build their botnets.
According to Sean Tierney, vice president of threat intelligence for IID, his firm predicts that in the next two years botnet operators are going to start getting creative in their use of wearables and connected home products to bulk up their botnet ranks. They predict that these IoT botnets will be used for everyday DDoS attacks, pay-per-click fraud, and other wide-ranging attacks.
"As these devices are used to attack other networks or for retaliatory attacks, it will eventually lead to the 'Battle of the Botnet' for domination of IoT," Tierney says.
Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading. View Full Bio