The cause of the latest cyber-attack may not be attributed to some lonely, isolated hacker sitting in a darkened room in the basement level of his parents’ house. The somewhat stereotypical cyber villain portrayed in Hollywood cinema and described in fanciful spy novels is taking on a new persona just as cyber-detectives thought they had a handle on their prays physiological make-up. And with your cyber-security team busily focused on preparing defenses against all the new techno-threats like BYOD and wearable technology, the last thing any of us needed to encounter breaking into our company’s cyber-system and causing havoc is a menacing refrigerator.
The first evidence that the emerging, “Internet of Things” is also the Internet of Things That Can Deliver Spam. A security firm has uncovered a global cyber-attack that harnessed connected household devices, including a refrigerator. Proofpoint Inc., based in Sunnyvale, California, said the attack Relevant Products/Services utilized 100,000 consumer devices, employing them as other attacks have used captured computers, to secretly deliver spamming e-mails numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The attack took place recently, between Dec. 23, 2013 and Jan. 6, 2014 and included in its botnet at least one smart refrigerator, as well as home-networking routers, connected multimedia centers and smart TVs. Who could have seen this one coming and from all places, your mothers toaster?
The security company told news media that the attack “may be the first proven Internet of Things-based cyber-attack involving conventional household ‘smart’ appliances.” The attack, Proofpoint said, was sent in bursts of 100,000 e-mails three times daily, directed at companies and individuals around the globe, and over one-quarter of the spam was sent by compromised, non-computing devices. No single IP address was used to send more than 10 e-mails, which made the attack’s origin more difficult to locate, and the commandeering of the devices involved the relatively simple tasks of taking advantage of misconfigurations and default passwords. David Knight, general manager of the Information Security Division at Proofpoint, said in a statement that devices in the Internet of Things “are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur.” Businesses, he said, may find distributed attacks “increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them.”
While not surprising, this new turn in malware raises a variety of questions about the addition of intelligence Relevant Products/Services and connectivity Relevant Products/Services to appliances and other non-computing products. If they can become “thingbots” and commandeered for nefarious purposes, will they also need the kind of anti-virus software, updates and continual vigilance that users are now required to do for their computers and mobile Relevant Products/Services devices?
And how much additional effort and expense will it take to build and monitor a security fence around intelligent TVs, refrigerators, stoves, lighting devices in homes, connected coffee pots, smart thermostats and the like? According to some estimates, the Internet of Things already includes more than 2 billion devices, and industry research firm IDC has predicted there will be more than 200 billion connected things by 2020.
Perhaps manufacturers of all things utilitarian in today’s modern, electronic packed kitchens need to take a page from the color copier era of the past when developers of the new color, digital imaging machines took a pause in rushing the newest copier to corporate mail rooms. Apparently it occurred to someone that some creative employees may be able to run off a batch of crisp $100 bills in the company printer room to pay the mortgage payment while on their lunch break. Manufacturers need to wise-up about making all of these devices attack-proof, by utilizing “application control, not anti-virus software,” so that a connected device is built to run only specified applications.
It all seems a bit comical that such potentially damaging intrusions could be attributed to the normally benign appliances within our own homes and offices, but there is nothing laughable about trying to explain to 50,000 of your customers that all their personal credit card data was stolen out from under your extensive and very expensive security infrastructure by your neighbors juicer, three hand mixers and their accomplice, the microwave oven.