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RSA Highlighted Impending IoT Troubles

Same mistakes made all over again with a new technology game changer, but the stakes are higher this time.

As attendees digest the messages coming out of RSA Conference last week, they're sifting through plenty of important themes that came to light be it information sharing, big data analytics' impact on security,  and the use of automation to better level the playing field with the scale attackers have achieved. But perhaps one of the most lasting topics to bridge across conference session tracks and cocktail debates is the impending difficulties enterprise IT will face in securing the Internet of Things (IoT).

It's a new wave of technology that at first blush may seem like only a consumer security and privacy problem, but the issues are going to impact the enterprise in more ways than most realize, experts warn.

According to Andrew Hay, director of research for OpenDNS, in preliminary research he's done so far he's found 4,000 enterprises that have devices beaconing out on the Internet that fall into the IoT category. And in most cases, it'll end up being devices organizations may not even realize are there that will pose big problems.

"You might not expect Samsung televisions beaconing out to the internet numerous times throughout the day in Fortune 500 oil and gas companies, but they're there," he says. "That would worry me, because these are essentially web servers."

Often these consumer devices pose a problem for security researchers due to the huge diversity of platforms and the obsolescence churn of the more consumer-grade IoT technology. But in many instances the other types of IoT devices—those in which infrastructure-type devices such as thermostats are outfitted with telemetry and connectivity—pose an opposite problem.

"Attackers like these because they're persistent. The thermostat in the CEO's office is going to stay there for 10 to 15 years," says Benjamin Jun, an advisory board member at Cryptography Research. "They're connected. There's probably a microphone on that device somewhere. And they're not very well-maintained. You just don't think about updating the firmware on your thermostat."

Right now the myopic outlook from the enterprise infosec crowd on IoT reminds Ed Skoudis a lot of how things looked at his first RSA back in 1997 when thought leaders were kicking around the very new wireless LAN technology.

"I thought then, they're going to make it much better than what we screwed up with cellular technology. Nope," says Skoudis, a fellow at the SANS Institute and founder of Counter Hack. "Every new wave of technology makes the same mistakes that the previous one does. We're going to get the next one wrong, so we need to figure how quickly we can try to fix it."

The difficulty is that IoT brings several new dimensions to the equation that many previous game-changing technologies did not. Most obvious is the technology's impact on the physical world.

For example, Wendy Nather, research director for 451 Research says that at the show she heard from a customer that illustrated the real-world consequences that up the stakes for IoT security.

"I heard yesterday from an  enterprise user about a real-live case in the field of malware jumping from a mobile device to a car," she said. "It's not clear what the purpose of the infection was, but it did happen and actually stop the car. The computer system of the car wouldn't operate."

Scale of IoT is also another added dimension of difficulty for CISOs and CIOs to deal with. The problem is that from a budget perspective, mobile platforms have already divided up endpoint security dollars as is. With such a diversity of platforms that are often not well supported, enterprises are going to struggle to keep up with management of everything.

"Those are real challenges," Jun says. "It's management, it's money and it's deciding how much we actually care about doing this as an organization."

Nather's story offers anecdotal evidence that the attackers are going to target these devices as low-hanging fruit, especially as they recognize that management gap that Jun details.

"Adversaries are really thinking hard about how to maintain long-term access to infrastructure," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of Crowdstrike. "As defenses get built up on typical systems we think about protecting, they'll start thinking about where to put implants that won't be checked. So things like printers and thermostats are a great place to hide because (enterprises) don't have visibility into those systems and never think about scanning them."

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

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User Rank: Ninja
4/29/2015 | 4:39:11 AM
Ghosts in the Shells
For years hacker fiction has taken this idea and used it as an ingredient for suspense, projecting even to a time when cybernetic brains might be home to malicious Internet bots on the run.  But then, we asked for this.  Putting everything possible online has been a drive for some time.  What libraries are more loved than those of the ubiquitous TCP/IP stack that appear in every SDK for everything from embedded OS phone and car brains, to fridge, microwave and coffee maker.  Careful, if you have a camera on your fridge footage of the next cup of water you drink might be streamed by the bot hiding there.

It's high time a detailed analysis of these "odd" netizens was performed and a comprehensive index of tech specs for them documented.  The playbook for home security is going to change considerably, and the next uprising of toasters and trash compactors may have nothing to do with AI, but more to do with malware and viruses.  I can only imagine the fun hacks being planned right now in hopes of wreaking domestic havoc, starting with your coffee maker and those rediculous glasses - neither of these belong connected to my favorite stomping grounds!
Some Guy
Some Guy,
User Rank: Moderator
4/29/2015 | 2:22:52 PM
Harder and Easier -- Higher Stakes w Control & Safety Implications
IoT is going to be Harder AND Easier. But more importantly, IoT moves us beyond the Data domain to the Data + CONTROL domains.

Harder is easy to see, as the above points out. At the same time easier because we don't have to wait 30 years to add security after-the-fact like we did with the Internet, and because an IoT device doesn't have to allow any and every application to run. Today anti-virus blacklists the progams we know are bad after we figure it out, but you are allowed to run everything else. Whitelisting is the opposite approach that is called for with IoT -- when you design an IoT device, you know exactly what it should do, so lock it down to never run anything else. (Of course this is just one step in all the things we already know we have to do for IoT. The expectation needs to be that YOU and I won't buy any IoT device that isn't built on security as its foundation.)

The biggest shift has to be in how we think about IoT. It isn't just data and Identity Theft anymore. It's first and foremost Safety, Reliability and components that are going into systems that interface and CONTROL the physical world. If it's only about getting a sensor, actuator, or app to market, and not about doing the due dilligence that every control device has to do, IoT is simply going to fall flat on its face. So to the extent that folks don't do IoT with security as its foundation, the success and growth rate of IoT are going to be directly impacted.
Ericka Chickowski
Ericka Chickowski,
User Rank: Moderator
4/29/2015 | 3:34:38 PM
Re: Harder and Easier -- Higher Stakes w Control & Safety Implications
Agreed, Some Guy. I think one thing to think about as we move forward and consider safety and reliability issues is that there will be a greater need for interdisciplinary cooperation with engineers, facilities managers, etc in order to manage risk in the physical world incurred by IoT software/firmware vulns.
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