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What Makes Smart Devices So Vulnerable in 2017?


By: Julia John-Scheder

What Makes Smart Devices So Vulnerable in 2017?

It’s the middle of the winter; 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Inside your house, it is much colder than 74 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature that is automatically set when your smart home detects you have left the office. Although nobody is at home, your television is blaring and deafening music is blasting from your stereo speakers. Your fridge display shows a message indicating 500 bottles of milk and 100 cartons of eggs were just ordered. Then you receive a notification on your phone informing you that your “smart” washing machine just ordered repair parts which you never authorized. You consult your home monitor to turn your appliances off, but it won’t listen to your voice commands or screen prompts. Surprise, your smart home has been hacked.

This Internet of Things (IoT), Jetsons’ lifestyle is a possible future scenario for many of us. Read our interview on the future of smart homes with Prof. Dr. Elisabeth André, Chair of Human-Centered Multimedia at Augsburg University. Smart homes contain devices designed to connect to the Internet in order to learn about their owners’ habits. The “magic” happens when data that is gathered by the devices is fed back into the software infrastructure. This results in improved accuracy of the device and, in turn, is more convenient for users.

Business leaders have been looking at the Internet of Things as the next industrial revolution and many data experts predict that 2017 will be the year that IoT catches on with the broader public. This prediction is primarily based on the fact that innovative devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are being pushed onto consumers.

But why has IoT taken so long to attract more people? One possible explanation might be concerns about hacking. Industry experts blame the lack of software standards for these smart devices. There’s no security policy for the production of such devices which could force users to reset and update passwords periodically to protect themselves from hacking attempts. Recent events have showcased the vulnerabilities.

In October 2016 major websites were shut down by an overwhelming amount of traffic to their sites through an attack called the Mirai botnet. Routers and other smart devices were infected with malware that created an army of bots intended to harm operators and service providers globally. Germany’s largest communications company, Deutsche Telekom was affected, but its defense system kicked infected routers offline, which left 900,000 people without Internet access yet they were not hacked.

This may seem like a major challenge for governments that are tasked with protecting their citizens. The biggest issue policymakers are facing is the speed of the technological evolution which outpaces bureaucratic processes.

With the formation of Mobile Incident Response Teams (MIRT), located at the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), Germany is being proactive. Here’s our interview with the president of the Cyber Security Council Germany, Arne Schönbohm.

Special units and mobile teams have been created by the German government with a focus on protection from ransomware. According to Reuters, the number of messages featuring this specific malware increased by over 1,200% in the first half of 2016 in Germany. Read about German innovations in cyber security here.

Here is a video from our Cyber Security Event, The Shifting Paradigm of Data Security: Intelligence and Big Data from January 31st, 2017: