Internet of Broken Things? 10 key facts about IoT

By Ian Kilpatrick, EVP Cyber Security Nuvias Group A recent survey shows 64 percent of organisations have deployed some level of IoT technology, and another 20 percent plan to do so within the next 12 months. This means that by the end of 2018, five out of six organisations will be using at least a […]

By Ian Kilpatrick, EVP Cyber Security Nuvias Group

A recent survey shows 64 percent of organisations have deployed some level of IoT technology, and another 20 percent plan to do so within the next 12 months. This means that by the end of 2018, five out of six organisations will be using at least a minimal level of IoT technology within their businesses.

This is an astonishing fact when you consider the lack of basic security on these devices, or any established security standards.

The influx of connected devices onto a company’s network literally creates tens, or even hundreds of new unsecured entry points for cybercriminals. But many companies are turning a blind eye to this, swayed by the potential benefits that IoT can bring their business.

So here are some facts for consideration, before taking the leap into IoT, including a look at the short and medium term consequences of deploying a wave of unsecured devices to your network.

  1. IoT – a cybercriminal’s dream

Any device or sensor with an IP address connected to a corporate network is an entry point for hackers and other cybercriminals – the equivalent of an organisation leaving its front door wide open for thieves.

Managing endpoints within an organisation is already a challenge; a 2017 survey showed 63 percent of IT service providers have seen a 50 percent increase in the number of endpoints they’re managing, compared to the previous year.

IoT will usher in a raft of new network-connected devices that threaten to overwhelm the IT department charged with securing them – a thankless task considering the lack of basic safeguards in place on the devices.

Of particular concern is that many IoT devices are not designed to be secured or updated after deployment. This means that any vulnerabilities discovered post- deployment cannot be protected against in the device; and corrupted devices cannot be cleansed. In an environment with hundreds or thousands of insecure or corrupted devices, this can raise huge operational and security challenges.

  1. IT or OT

IT professionals are more used to securing PCs, laptops and other devices, but they will now be expected to become experts in smart lighting, heating and air conditioning systems, not to mention security cameras and integrated facilities management systems.

A lack of experience in managing this Operating Technology (OT), rather than IT, should be a cause of concern. It is seen as operational rather than strategic, and deployment and management is often shifted well away from Board awareness and oversight.

And that’s barely touching the visible surface. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is already transforming and will continue to transform businesses.

Many AI applications depend on IoT – for example transportation and logistics are being changed by it. These developments can and will impact most organisations.

Nevertheless, the majority of organisations are deploying IoT technology with not only a lack of strategic direction, but with minimal regard to the risk profile or the tactical requirements needed to secure them against unforeseen consequences. These include not just security requirements, but also business continuity challenges.

  1. Increase in DDoS attacks

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are on the rise. In the UK alone, 41 percent of organisations say they have experienced a DDoS attack.

IoT devices are a perfect vehicle for criminals to use to access a company’s network. In fact, 2016’s high-profile Mirai attack used IoT devices to mount wide-scale DDoS attacks that disrupted internet service for more than 900,000 Deutsche Telekom customers in Germany, and infected almost 2,400 TalkTalk routers in the UK.

4…and ransomware attacks

Elsewhere, there has been an almost 2000 percent jump in ransomware detections since 2015. Ransomware became a public talking point in 2017 when WannaCry targeted more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries, with damages ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

While most ransomware attacks currently infiltrate an organisation via email, IoT presents a new delivery system for both mass and targeted attacks. Consider the potentially life-threatening impact of ransomware on smart devices within critical applications – the ability of criminals to shut down critical business and logistics systems has already been repeatedly demonstrated. So perhaps it is unsurprising that a 2017 survey found that almost half of small businesses questioned would pay a ransom on IoT devices to reclaim their data.

  1. Increasing intensity and sophistication of attacks

The sophistication of attacks targeting organisations is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, with criminals leveraging the significantly expanded and expanding attack surface created by IoT for new disruptive opportunities.

According to Fortinet’s latest Quarterly Threat Landscape report, three of the top twenty attacks identified in Q4 2017 were IoT botnets. But it says unlike previous attacks, which focused on exploiting a single vulnerability, new IoT botnets such as Reaper and Hajime target multiple vulnerabilities simultaneously, which is much harder to combat.

Wi-Fi cameras were targeted by criminals, with more than four times the number of exploit attempts detected over Q3 2017. The challenge is that none of these detections is associated with a known security threat, which Fortinet rightly describes as “one of the more troubling aspects of the myriad of vulnerable devices that make up the IoT.”

  1. The effects of an attack

The aftermath of a cyberattack can be devastating for any company, leading to huge financial losses, compounded by regulatory fines for data breaches, and plummeting market share or job losses. At best, a company could suffer irreparable reputational damage and loss of customer loyalty.

On top of that, IoT devices have the potential to create organisational and infrastructure risks, and even pose a threat to human life, if they are attacked. We have already seen the impact of nation-state attack tools being used as nation state weapons, then getting out and being used in commercial criminal activity. While the core focus is on defending critical infrastructure, and that is still far behind the curve, weak business infrastructure is a much softer target.

  1. Profit over security

It’s crazy to think that devices with the potential to enable so much damage to homes, businesses and even entire cities often lack basic security design, implementation and testing. In the main this is because device manufacturers are pushing through their products to get them to market as quickly as possible, to cash in on the current buzz around IoT.

Though, F-Secure in its Pinning Down the IoT report says other factors include the small size of the chips being used for cost-saving reasons, and that devices are set to the manufacturer’s default password settings, which are set to four zeros or 1234, which are well known to criminals.

Lawrence Munro, vice president SpiderLabs at Trustwave agrees IoT manufacturers are sidestepping security fundamentals as they rush to bring products to market: “We are seeing lack of familiarity with secure coding concepts resulting in vulnerabilities, some of them a decade old, incorporated into final designs,” he notes.

“If consumers aren’t demanding security, manufacturers will never prioritise it,” says the F-Secure report. “But given the extraordinary dependency society is likely to develop on billions of IoT devices, governments may have to step in to demand security requirements.”

  1. Can you see the problem?

Another huge problem is that once a network in attacked, it’s much easier for subsequent attacks to occur.

Yet, recent data shows just half of IT decision makers feel confident they have full visibility and control of all devices with network access. The same percentage believe they have full visibility of the access level of all third parties, who frequently have access to networks, and 54 percent say they have full visibility and control of all employees.

This is a worrying lack of confidence in network visibility and should be a concern for organisations. Yet, the same figures show basic security measures like network segmentation are only being planned by 24 percent of businesses in 2018. Without network segmentation, malware entering a network will often be left to spread.

Elsewhere, less than half of organisations have formal patching policies and procedures in place, and only about a third patch their IoT devices within 24 hours after a fix becomes available.

But because updating IoT devices by nature is more challenging, many remain vulnerable even after patches are issued, so organisations need to properly document and test each IoT device on their network.

  1. Turning a blind eye

Both consumers and manufacturers seem to be burying their heads in the sand when it comes to IoT security.

Despite security concerns often cited as the number one barrier to greater IoT adoption, Trustwave research shows sixty-one percent of firms who have deployed some level of IoT technology have had to deal with a security incident related to IoT, and 55 percent believe an attack will occur sometime during the next two years. Only 28 percent of organisations surveyed consider that their IoT security strategy is ‘very important’ when compared to other cybersecurity priorities.

More worrying is that more than a third believe that IoT security is only ‘somewhat’ or ‘not’ important!

Some more troublesome stats – fewer than half of organisations consistently assess the IoT security risk posed by third-party partners, another 34 percent do so only periodically, and 19 percent don’t perform third-party IoT risk assessment at all.

  1. Efforts to standardise

These security concerns can obviously paint the adoption of IoT in a negative light. But is there anything being done to mitigate these risks?

In the UK, the government’s five-year National Cyber Security Programme (NCSP) is looking to work with the IT industry to build security into IoT devices through its ‘Secure by Default’ initiative.

The group published a review earlier this month that addresses key risks related to consumer IoT and proposes a draft Code of Practice for IoT manufacturers and developers.

Recommendations include: ensuring that IoT devices do not contain default passwords; defining and implementing vulnerability disclosure policy; ensuring software for devices is regularly updated; and a proposal for a voluntary labelling scheme.

While there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, it may not be enough. Regulators won’t force device manufacturers to introduce the necessary security regulations and practices before thousands of businesses fall victim to attacks. Turning a blind eye to the IoT security risks could leave your organisation permanently paralysed.


Bio of author

Ian Kilpatrick, EVP (Executive Vice-President) Cyber Security for Nuvias Group

A leading and influential figure in the IT channel, Ian now heads up the Nuvias Cyber Security Practice. He has overall responsibility for cyber security strategy, as well as being a Nuvias board member. Ian brings many years of channel experience, particularly in security, to Nuvias. He was a founder member of the award-winning Wick Hill Group in the 1970s and thanks to his enthusiasm, motivational abilities and drive, led the company through its successful growth and development, to become a leading, international, value-added distributor, focused on security. Wick Hill was acquired by Nuvias in July 2015.

Ian is a thought leader, with a strong vision of the future in IT, focusing on business needs and benefits, rather than just technology. He is a much published author and a regular speaker at IT events.  Before Wick Hill, Ian qualified as an accountant, was financial controller for a Fortune 50 company, and was a partner in a management consultancy.