Matt Brunk
Matt Brunk has worked in past roles as director of IT for a multisite health care firm; president of Telecomworx,...
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Matt Brunk | October 28, 2016 |


Bad Idea: Ignoring IoT Security

Bad Idea: Ignoring IoT Security Before things improve, we can expect more disruption -- is your organization ready?

Before things improve, we can expect more disruption -- is your organization ready?

Last week's distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on managed domain name services provider Dyn served as a stark reminder of the dangers of weak security mechanisms (see No Jitter coverage from earlier this week, "IoT: Prolific but Potentially Perilous." Just how many of these red flags do we see raised before the proverbial walls come tumbling down?

Following the DDoS attack, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued an alert about the heightened threat from botnots. In the alert, it suggested a variety of preventative steps to take with Internet-connected devices, including:

  • Ensure default usernames and passwords are changed to stronger ones
  • Update IoT devices as soon as security patches become available
  • Disable Universal Plug and Play on routers unless absolutely necessary

Common Occurrence
Reading US-CERT's recommendations reminded me of a recent situation in which I needed to learn the workings of a Samsung OfficeServ 7100 phone system. Within a couple of minutes, I had the installation manual, including the default username and password as well as the technician password for accessing the system's embedded Web server and programming via a telephone set. All the credentials on the pre-existing system I started working on were still in default mode, as they are on many other systems and devices that I've run across.

In June, I performed inventory on a network that had documented credentials for a website, servers -- one or two pages of them -- switches, firewalls, Wi-FI SSIDs, and printers. Now I have six pages of documented gear -- and not because any of it is new gear. Rather, this organization simply had failed to have documentation for that much gear, systems, and cloud services.

Network managers and staff at large enterprises could easily dismiss this as a consumer or SMB problem related to not having enough IT support. However, many contractors and trade professionals lack appropriate skillsets; for them, best practice is to get in, get out. They drop in routers and switches and connect everything from HVAC to bell systems, and the gear goes unchecked. The client expects everything to work, and unchecked devices contribute to security problems down the road.

But these issues and lax practices are also found in large enterprises. You can often find default FTP and Telnet credentials on routers and switches. Staff replaces gear, but doesn't always restore configurations to secure the newly installed resources properly.

Patch Problem
Patching and updating is the other key issue. Because people hate moving targets, they resist updating their devices. This behavioral acceptance, or resistance, must change, as the value of staying up to date on system updates and patches outweighs the risk of operational disruption from any issues that arise in updated firmware.

A DDoS attack such as last Friday's indicates that the Internet of Things (IoT) has gone wild without adequate security in place. These connected devices really shouldn't be trusted openly, and both consumers and SMB owners need to understand that attackers can potentially use their gear in exploits (see my earlier post, "DDoS Attacks: Black Cloud Rising").

IT managers normally would say, "Educate the users," but in this case educating the users isn't enough to elevate security. This isn't just a user problem but extends, as I've previously written, to plumbers, electricians, HVAC professionals, and other workers connecting their related gear while installing low-end switches, routers, and Wi-Fi into customer networks.

The readily available, inexpensive wares contribute to the problem, too. Cheap gear with little to no security is set up to fail -- especially since many of these devices are manufactured in one run. This means the manufacturer will not be upgrading firmware to fix bugs, make improvements, or correct security vulnerabilities.

Protect, Not React
Enterprises will either act or react to the potential direct DDoS threat to their organizations. The disruption that can come in the absence of mitigation services can be costly. Enterprises can protect themselves but also will need to ensure that key cloud services are protected, too, and that the provider can mitigate a DDoS attack with resources already in place.

Before things improve, we can expect more disruption even as we've seen some signs of improvement. For example, some vendors are stepping up their security practices. For example, AT&T has been shipping consumer routers from Motorola for the past couple of years pre-configured with strong credentials for Wi-Fi. Adtran offers NetVanta switches with DDoS attack prevention within their OS. And, HP requires an additional CAPTCHA step for logging into its switches. And we should also expect to see regulation and more legislation tough on offenders. Several years ago the Pentagon revealed that, "a cyber attack from another country can be an act of war," but U.S. policy still isn't clearly defined for responding to an attack, as South Dakota Sen. Michael Rounds told The Wall Street Journal in a May report.

As I've written previously, DDoS attacks are real, and growing, and they will disrupt commerce and more.

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