Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled 450,000 pacemakers that are currently in use by patients out of fear that these devices could be compromised. Although the agency said there is not any reported patient harm related to the devices, the FDA is rightly concerned that attackers will exploit pacemaker vulnerabilities and have the ability to affect how a medical device works.
While this is perhaps one of the most potentially life-threatening examples of unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) security, it drives home the point that manufacturers are not building these devices with security as a priority. As IoT devices grow in popularity, seemingly endless security- and privacy-related concerns are surfacing.
IoT Malware: Alive and Well
With more than 20 billion devices expected to be connected to the Internet over the next few years, it comes as no surprise that attackers are increasingly looking to exploit them. Large-scale events like last October's distributed denial-of-service attack targeting systems operated by Dyn, and warnings from security experts should have security professionals paying attention. But are they?
According to a recent Gartner report, by 2020, IoT technology will be in 95% of new electronic product designs. While this statistic demonstrates the success of IoT, it is also a precursor for alarm. As the adoption of IoT devices rises, manufacturers are competing to stay ahead. Creating cheap products quickly often means overlooking security and privacy measures.
In general, consumers need to have more control over privacy and how they use IoT devices (think of the pacemaker). Watches and other wearables, for instance, are good examples of devices that give consumers control. Users can turn them off, take them off, and customize them. However, other devices, such as your personal home assistant can, theoretically, always be listening, as when, according to a CNET report, a hostage victim was able to contact law enforcement through their Amazon Alexa device, despite the fact that Amazon says the technology doesn't support "wake-up" action calls to outside phone lines.
National Security Issue?
The IoT Cybersecurity Act was introduced recently as an initiative designed to set security standards for the US government's purchase of IoT devices. In order to steer clear of stifling innovation, the government doesn't often insert itself into private sector manufacturing decisions. However, the proposed legislation signals that, at least in some quarters, IoT security is becoming a matter of national security. And, although this bill does not pertain to consumers, it is a step in the right direction by challenging manufacturers to prioritize IoT security and privacy in their engineering designs, and consumers, in their purchasing decisions.
At the end of the day, as consumers continue to embrace IoT technology, they should not have to sacrifice security and privacy for the convenience and enjoyment of a product and service. Instead, they should be able to decide how they use "things" and how they can control them. Until security and privacy measures are embedded in all devices, those of us in the security industry need to challenge ourselves by questioning whether the convenience is worth the risk and compromise of unsecured devices.