Internet of Things Security Problem Just Keeps Getting Bigger

Recent reports about Webcams being readily accessible to anyone using an Internet port-scanning service show there has been little progress in securing connected devices as we move into 2016.

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IoT Camera Security 2

Every year or so, the Internet rediscovers that unsecured webcams are out there, leaking ready-to-watch videos of babies, pets, bank customers and even the offices of the webcam makers.

This month, the ability of the Shodan port-scanning service to easily find webcams set off a kerfuffle in the media. Yet, the criticism is missing the point. It’s more worrisome that people are putting devices into their homes and businesses with little concern for the security and privacy implications, security researcher Dan Tentler, told eWEEK.

Tentler has discussed the lack of security on webcams and other devices connected to the Internet at multiple conferences, and occasionally he posts interesting results from Shodan to his Twitter feed. The popularity of the devices and their lack of security is creating a burgeoning problem, he said in an e-mail interview.

“It says neither consumers nor vendors care about security, and it’s going to be an amazing apocalypse,” Tentler said.

“Sooner or later people will have a dozen things in their homes that are publicly connected, with little to no security and bad guys will find a way to take advantage of that fact with some heavy [consequences].”

In a research report presented in May 2014, Tentler found seven webcam models are currently accessible online, accounting for nearly a million devices. Finding them was not totally straightforward, as he had to fingerprint them using telnet, but a simple enough task for any hacker.

“With a million plus endpoints, they are an excellent cross section of the type of security you can expect from people that manufacture stuff for public consumption,” he said.

Since the number of connected devices is expected to grow quickly, the lack of security will become a greater problem. Business strategy firm Frost & Sullivan forecasts that the number of connected devices will reach around 22 billion by 2019, growing by more than 18 percent a year.

Connected cars alone will account for 24.0 percent of these devices and wearables will represent 17.1 percent.

The expectation is that many of these devices will not be properly secured. Security firms are already seeing the vulnerable devices as a potential market. In November, security firm F-Secure released its Sense smart-device security gateway, which scans traffic for possible malicious code or behavior. Startup Bastille aims to create products and services that will allow companies to detect the myriad of wireless 'things' that enter the workplace.

To improve security, both consumers and manufacturers have to take responsibility for the security of the devices, Tentler said.

“The security researchers are in the middle, like a marriage counselor, saying, ‘Look, you both have to do stuff. You can't just blame each other and do nothing,’” he said.

Device makers need to conduct security audits and stop shipping products with default passwords, Tentler said. The government needs to come down harder on companies that do not adequately secure their devices. Finally, consumers need to understand that connecting a device to the Internet requires them to take responsibility for it, he added.

“I don’t care if you’re a plumber or a nun–you don’t buy a thing and connect it to the Internet without taking some kind of risk,” he said. “You have to take 60 seconds to understand that risk.”

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...