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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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