You have probably heard recently about the ransomware attack that hit over 100 countries last week, and caused havoc for many large companies including the UK’s National Health Service. This attack brought hospitals and doctor’s surgeries to their knees, cancelling operations and causing legitimate worry for a health service already under severe strain. For those that don’t know, ransomware locks away data on infected computers until a ransom is delivered to the hackers, usually through bitcoin. While this infection didn’t use IOT devices to spread, it is a stark warning to an industry that has found it hard to nail down a global security frameworks that defends against such attacks.
Only last year, the Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack that brought down the Dyn Domain Name System illustrated how dangerous unprotected devices can be. That particular malware infected CCTV, and baby monitors that were still using the default passwords that came with the device, something that many users fail to change, and in turn these devices were used to launch a huge attack on the Dyn server system. While this caused huge disruption to Dyn themselves, the average consumer went about their day without really caring too much. This could all change when IOT starts to infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives. In Germany, the recent ransomware virus infected computers and display screens associated with German railway companies, and in a limited case, stopped them running. Again, this doesn’t sound overly scary yet, but now fast forward another twenty years, where by all accounts there should be plenty of self driving cars around. An infection to their systems could cause very worrying scenes when you consider that the speed limits could be altered, or even the destination of the vehicle itself.
The home isn’t inoculated against such attacks either, in fact consumer grade IOT devices are more likely than any others to have only basic security. Depending on the company you buy your devices from, most people have very little idea about the security level of their new smart camera or baby monitor. In an age where many of us have video portals into our living spaces, it is amazing how nonchalant we are about who might have access to our data. While ransomware on your smart toaster doesn’t sound very likely, a hacker having access to some embarrassing footage and asking for a ransom in order not to spread it all over the internet isn’t a far fetched scenario for those who don’t take their security seriously. When it comes to the likes of Google’s Nest Cam, or Amazon’s Look, the worries should subside to a degree, as the big boys of the industry have plenty of clout when it comes to making sure your data is safe, although, nobody is completely safe no matter how big the company. The little IOT start ups though? They generally aren’t as hot when it comes to security.
So does this mean we should ignore any new interesting ideas that come from the little guys? Absolutely not. Innovation is key to pushing this field of tech forward, and the IOT is almost purely driven by these innovative ideas brought to the forefront by the ‘little guy’. Rather than avoiding them, we need to firstly be aware that we may need to invest a little time ourselves in making sure they are safe, and secondly, buy from the companies that have great reviews, and convey to the consumer how safe their devices are. A little research can help placate even the most cynical of minds.
A set of ubiquitous standards for IOT security wouldn’t go a miss either. We are slowly starting to get there, but at the moment this area of tech feels very much like the wild west. While everyone is scrambling to get their foothold in the industry, there are many different devices that simply refuse to work together. Ironically, working together is exactly what is needed right now. If the big companies in the industry sat down and came up with a security standard, everyone would benefit, from Google, Apple, and Amazon, to Steve and Sharron who are working on a start up in their garage. What the consumer needs, is a nice little security sticker on the box that reassures them that ‘everything is going to be fine with this purchase’. It may seem a bit ridiculous, but it really does feel like the companies who are leading the way in the industry need to reassure their customers a little more than they currently are. According to research by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, over half of consumers are worried about IOT security, which is not good news for any company looking to push these sort of devices in the marketplace. The more ‘techy’ guys and girls out there may very well know that we are at the start of a very exciting time, but the average consumer is still slightly put off by the IOT world. For this to change we need more firms to take security seriously, and for the big companies to convey that information to their customers much better than they currently are.
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