Don’t be caught unaware by the IoT

The Internet is a golden opportunity for many organizations, but it’s the nightmare for IT security pros. As companies rush to attach almost anything to the ‘net security is often the last thing designers worry about, leading to the discovery that wired cars can be hacked.

One of the latest reports came this week from a trio of researchers from the University of Michigan and Microsoft who found Samsung’s SmartThings home monitoring platform, which is open to third party apps and products, can be overprivileged. While SmartThings hosts the application runtime on a proprietary, closed-source cloud backend and implements a privilege separation model, the SmartApps users need to run the system can be overprivileged — they can gain access to more operations on devices than their functionality requires.

In addition the SmartThings event subsystem, which devices use to communicate asynchronously with SmartApps via events, does not sufficiently protect events that carry sensitive information such as lock pincodes.

“We exploited framework design flaws to construct four proof-of-concept attacks that: (1) secretly planted door lock codes; (2) stole existing door lock codes; (3) disabled vacation mode of the home; and (4) induced a fake fire alarm.” their report says in part.

(By the way, the door lock code theft could be accomplished by leveraging an existing SmartApp that was only for monitoring the battery leverl of devices paired with the SmartThings hub.)

In response Samsung said its SmartThings security team is analyzing already published and new SmartApps to detect any behavior that exposes HTTP endpoints and ensure that every method name passed through HTTP requests are not invoked dynamically. The team also now examine all Web services endpoints to ensure that these are benign in operation.

Also this week IBM released a report warning that one of the oldest protocols for accessing remote computers, Telnet, could be leveraged to attack IoT devices.

What should CISOs do?

The first thing is to ensure any IoT products the organization is developing goes through a rigorous DevOps system with security a priority. Second, is to grill suppliers about the application development of devices being bought. Third is to secure the network.

Ken McAlpine, vice-president of network security solutions at Fortinet, reminds CISOs the internal network has to be prepared as well. In a column this week he points out that employees will undoubtedly bring IoT devices into the office. That makes it imperative to to three things: Control network access, actively monitor the network and scale the network.

“We need secured trustworthy networking as opposed to networking plus security,” he writes.  There are a number of things on the CISOs plate now, but being caught unawares by the IoT shouldn’t be one of them.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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