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How to prepare for the Internet of Things attacks

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Internet of Things is a term we are all hearing – but very few people know what it means, or know what the dangerous impacts it brings with it regarding security.

Something major happened in 2017. Internet of Things (IoT) devices were exploited by cybercriminals and turned into a rogue and malevolent army. A series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks affected websites connected to the cloud-based internet performance management company Dyn, including Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, Spotify and PayPal. It’s was possibly a watershed moment.

Here are 10 things you need to know about IoT.

1.       Wait, what’s IoT?

Definitions vary, but the ‘Internet of Things’ refers to ‘smart devices’ like refrigerators that will tell us when we’re out of milk. But also, many smaller less outlandishly smart objects, such thermostats, coffee machines and cars. These gadgets are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity so that they can connect to the internet.

2.       So, what’s the problem?

Anything that connects to the internet, even if it doesn’t contain your medical records, poses a risk. The October 2017 attacks were made possible by the large number of unsecured internet-connected digital devices, such as home routers and surveillance cameras.

The attackers infected thousands of them with malicious code to form a botnet. Now, this is not a sophisticated means of attack, but there is strength in numbers. They can be used to swamp targeted servers, especially if they march in all at once.

3.       How did the attacks actually happen?

Remember that bit in the instruction manual where it told you to change the default password? Well, if you didn’t, then chances are your IoT device could spring to life as a cyber zombie. The DDoS-attackers know the default passwords for many IoT devices and used them to get in. It’s a bit like leaving your house keys under a flowerpot for anyone to find.

Anyone putting an IoT router, camera, TV or even refrigerator online without first changing the default password is enabling attacks of this type.  ESET research suggests at least 15% of home routers are unsecured – that’s an estimated 105 million potentially rogue routers.

 

4.       Wait, do I need IoT devices?

Some people dismiss IoT devices as gimmicky; others believe that in a few years we’ll all have smart cupboards that tell us what we can have for dinner. But there are numerous discernible benefits, such as the sensors in smartphones and smartwatches that provide real information about our health. Or the “blackbox” telematics in cars which can prove how safe or unsafe our driving is and thus help with insurance claims.

5.       So, this is a new problem?

Nope. The possibility for exploitation of this kind has been common knowledge since, well, the dawn of IoTs. But, we didn’t realize quite how vulnerable we were until last year’s attack. Malicious code infecting routers is nothing new, as this ESET research clearly demonstrates.

The advice to change the default passwords on these devices is not new and has been reiterated many times. Yet you can lead a horse to water, but there’s no making them drink. Years ago WeLiveSecurity reported on the existence of 73,000 security cameras with default passwords.

6.       How far does it go back?

The IoT actually goes way back as far as the 1980s. But in a slightly Back to the Future iteration. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University first came up with an internet-connected Coke vending machine in 1982.

7.       Surely, internet giants have the power to stop this?

Sure, they do. But that doesn’t mean some of them haven’t left gaping holes available for malicious exploitation. At the Black Hat security conference last year, security research students from University of Central Florida demonstrated how they could compromise Google’s Nest thermostat within 15 seconds.

Daniel Buentello, one of the team members, was quoted as saying in 2014: “This is a computer that the user can’t put an antivirus on. Worse yet, there’s a secret backdoor that a bad person could use and stay there forever. It’s a literal fly on the wall.”

8.       What can I personally do to stop this?

Look at IoT devices like any other computer. Immediately change the default password and check regularly for security patches, and always use the HTTPS interface when possible. When you’re not using the device, turn it off. If the device has other connection protocols that are not in use, disable them.

These things might sound simple, but you’d be alarmed by how easy it is to opt for convenience over good sense. Only half of respondents to this ESET survey indicated that they’d changed their router passwords.

9.       What can companies do to stop this?

You might think, ‘What’s the point? If an attacker can breach Amazon, then what hope does my firm have?’ Well, don’t give up hope. Organizations can defend against DDoS attacks in a range of ways including boosting the infrastructure of their networks and ensuring complete visibility of the traffic entering or exiting their networks. This can help detect DDoS attacks, while ensuring they’ve sufficient DDoS mitigation capacity and capabilities. Finally, have in place a DDoS defense plan, which is kept updated and is rehearsed on a regular basis.

Think of it like a fire drill for your network. Also, watch out for Telnet servers. These are the dinosaurs of the digital universe and as such should be extinct, because they’re so easily exploited. Never connect one to a public-facing device.

10.   But … and this is a big but …

The tech might have been around for a while but these kinds of attacks are brand new. As such there are no agreed best practice protection methods for stopping an IoT from turning against you.

At least, not ones that the experts can agree on. Some believe you should apply a firewall in your home or business and to regulate control of them to authorized users. However, another method would be to apply a certification approach: allowing only users with the right security certificate to control the devices and automatically barring any unauthorized profiles. If in doubt, unplug it.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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