The relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse.
Botnets have existed for at least a decade. As early as 2000, hackers were breaking into computers over the Internet and controlling them en masse from centralized systems. Among other things, the hackers used the combined computing power of these botnets to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, which flood websites with traffic to take them down.
But now the problem is getting worse, thanks to a flood of cheap webcams, digital video recorders, and other gadgets in the "Internet of things." Because these devices typically have little or no security, hackers can take them over with little effort.
With the Internet of Things, we’re building a world-size robot. How are we going to control it?
Last year, on October 21, your digital video recorder — or at least a DVR like yours — knocked Twitter off the internet. Someone used your DVR, along with millions of insecure webcams, routers, and other connected devices, to launch an attack that started a chain reaction, resulting in Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and many sites going off the internet. You probably didn't realize that your DVR had that kind of power. But it does.
President Barack Obama's public accusation of Russia as the source of the hacks in the US presidential election and the leaking of sensitive emails through WikiLeaks and other sources has opened up a debate on what constitutes sufficient evidence to attribute an attack in cyberspace. The answer is both complicated and inherently tied up in political considerations.
The administration is balancing political considerations and the inherent secrecy of electronic espionage with the need to justify its actions to the public. These issues will continue to plague us as more international conflict plays out in cyberspace.
This essay appeared as a response to Edge's annual question, "what scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?"
There's a concept from computer security known as a class break. It's a particular security vulnerability that breaks not just one system, but an entire class of systems. Examples might be a vulnerability in a particular operating system that allows an attacker to take remote control of every computer that runs on that system's software. Or a vulnerability in Internet-enabled digital video recorders and webcams that allow an attacker to recruit those devices into a massive botnet.
Unproven reports of possible discrepancies in the Rust Belt just show how untrustworthy the system is.
Was the 2016 presidential election hacked? It's hard to tell. There were no obvious hacks on Election Day, but new reports have raised the question of whether voting machines were tampered with in three states that Donald Trump won this month: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The researchers behind these reports include voting rights lawyer John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, both respected in the community.
Testimony at the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Hearing “Understanding the Role of Connected Devices in Recent Cyber Attacks”
Testimony of Bruce Schneier
Fellow, Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard University
Lecturer and Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Special Advisor to IBM Security and CTO of Resilient: An IBM Company
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and the
Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade
Joint Hearing Entitled
“Understanding the Role of Connected Devices in Recent Cyber Attacks”
November 16, 2016
Watch the Video on House.gov
Good morning. Chairmen Walden and Burgess, Ranking Members Eshoo and Schakowsky, members of the committee: thank you for the opportunity to testify on this matter. Although I have an affiliation with both Harvard University and IBM, I am testifying in my personal capacity as a cybersecurity expert and nothing I say should be construed as the official position of either of those organizations.
Late last month, popular websites like Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and PayPal went down for most of a day. The distributed denial-of-service attack that caused the outages, and the vulnerabilities that made the attack possible, was as much a failure of market and policy as it was of technology. If we want to secure our increasingly computerized and connected world, we need more government involvement in the security of the "Internet of Things" and increased regulation of what are now critical and life-threatening technologies. It's no longer a question of if, it's a question of when.
A week ago Friday, someone took down numerous popular websites in a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against the domain name provider Dyn. DDoS attacks are neither new nor sophisticated. The attacker sends a massive amount of traffic, causing the victim's system to slow to a crawl and eventually crash. There are more or less clever variants, but basically, it's a datapipe-size battle between attacker and victim.
Solutions require both corporate regulation and international cooperation
This essay appeared on Time.com as part of a special section called Let's Talk About the Issues.
On today's Internet, too much power is concentrated in too few hands. In the early days of the Internet, individuals were empowered. Now governments and corporations hold the balance of power. If we are to leave a better Internet for the next generations, governments need to rebalance Internet power more towards the individual.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient, an IBM Company.