Entries Tagged "Internet of Things"

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DDoS Attacks against Dyn

Yesterday’s DDoS attacks against Dyn are being reported everywhere.

I have received a gazillion press requests, but I am traveling in Australia and Asia and have had to decline most of them. That’s okay, really, because we don’t know anything much of anything about the attacks.

If I had to guess, though, I don’t think it’s China. I think it’s more likely related to the DDoS attacks against Brian Krebs than the probing attacks against the Internet infrastructure, despite how prescient that essay seems right now. And, no, I don’t think China is going to launch a preemptive attack on the Internet.

Posted on October 22, 2016 at 8:47 AMView Comments

Security Lessons from a Power Saw

Lance Spitzner looks at the safety features of a power saw and tries to apply them to Internet security:

By the way, here are some of the key safety features that are built into the DeWalt Mitre Saw. Notice in all three of these the human does not have to do anything special, just use the device. This is how we need to think from a security perspective.

  • Safety Cover: There is a plastic safety cover that protects the entire rotating blade. The only time the blade is actually exposed is when you lower the saw to actually cut into the wood. The moment you start to raise the blade after cutting, the plastic cover protects everything again. This means to hurt yourself you have to manually lower the blade with one hand then insert your hand into the cutting blade zone.
  • Power Switch: Actually, there is no power switch. Instead, after the saw is plugged in, to activate the saw you have to depress a lever. Let the lever go and saw stops. This means if you fall, slip, blackout, have a heart attack or any other type of accident and let go of the lever, the saw automatically stops. In other words, the saw always fails to the off (safe) position.
  • Shadow: The saw has a light that projects a shadow of the cutting blade precisely on the wood where the blade will cut. No guessing where the blade is going to cut.

Safety is like security, you cannot eliminate risk. But I feel this is a great example of how security can learn from others on how to take people into account.

Posted on October 19, 2016 at 6:45 AMView Comments

Security Economics of the Internet of Things

Brian Krebs is a popular reporter on the cybersecurity beat. He regularly exposes cybercriminals and their tactics, and consequently is regularly a target of their ire. Last month, he wrote about an online attack-for-hire service that resulted in the arrest of the two proprietors. In the aftermath, his site was taken down by a massive DDoS attack.

In many ways, this is nothing new. Distributed denial-of-service attacks are a family of attacks that cause websites and other Internet-connected systems to crash by overloading them with traffic. The “distributed” part means that other insecure computers on the Internet—sometimes in the millions­—are recruited to a botnet to unwittingly participate in the attack. The tactics are decades old; DDoS attacks are perpetrated by lone hackers trying to be annoying, criminals trying to extort money, and governments testing their tactics. There are defenses, and there are companies that offer DDoS mitigation services for hire.

Basically, it’s a size vs. size game. If the attackers can cobble together a fire hose of data bigger than the defender’s capability to cope with, they win. If the defenders can increase their capability in the face of attack, they win.

What was new about the Krebs attack was both the massive scale and the particular devices the attackers recruited. Instead of using traditional computers for their botnet, they used CCTV cameras, digital video recorders, home routers, and other embedded computers attached to the Internet as part of the Internet of Things.

Much has been written about how the IoT is wildly insecure. In fact, the software used to attack Krebs was simple and amateurish. What this attack demonstrates is that the economics of the IoT mean that it will remain insecure unless government steps in to fix the problem. This is a market failure that can’t get fixed on its own.

Our computers and smartphones are as secure as they are because there are teams of security engineers working on the problem. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google spend a lot of time testing their code before it’s released, and quickly patch vulnerabilities when they’re discovered. Those companies can support such teams because those companies make a huge amount of money, either directly or indirectly, from their software­—and, in part, compete on its security. This isn’t true of embedded systems like digital video recorders or home routers. Those systems are sold at a much lower margin, and are often built by offshore third parties. The companies involved simply don’t have the expertise to make them secure.

Even worse, most of these devices don’t have any way to be patched. Even though the source code to the botnet that attacked Krebs has been made public, we can’t update the affected devices. Microsoft delivers security patches to your computer once a month. Apple does it just as regularly, but not on a fixed schedule. But the only way for you to update the firmware in your home router is to throw it away and buy a new one.

The security of our computers and phones also comes from the fact that we replace them regularly. We buy new laptops every few years. We get new phones even more frequently. This isn’t true for all of the embedded IoT systems. They last for years, even decades. We might buy a new DVR every five or ten years. We replace our refrigerator every 25 years. We replace our thermostat approximately never. Already the banking industry is dealing with the security problems of Windows 95 embedded in ATMs. This same problem is going to occur all over the Internet of Things.

The market can’t fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. Think of all the CCTV cameras and DVRs used in the attack against Brian Krebs. The owners of those devices don’t care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don’t even know Brian. The sellers of those devices don’t care: they’re now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: it’s an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.

What this all means is that the IoT will remain insecure unless government steps in and fixes the problem. When we have market failures, government is the only solution. The government could impose security regulations on IoT manufacturers, forcing them to make their devices secure even though their customers don’t care. They could impose liabilities on manufacturers, allowing people like Brian Krebs to sue them. Any of these would raise the cost of insecurity and give companies incentives to spend money making their devices secure.

Of course, this would only be a domestic solution to an international problem. The Internet is global, and attackers can just as easily build a botnet out of IoT devices from Asia as from the United States. Long term, we need to build an Internet that is resilient against attacks like this. But that’s a long time coming. In the meantime, you can expect more attacks that leverage insecure IoT devices.

This essay previously appeared on Vice Motherboard.

Slashdot thread.

Here are some of the things that are vulnerable.

EDITED TO ADD (10/17: DARPA is looking for IoT-security ideas from the private sector.

Posted on October 10, 2016 at 10:26 AMView Comments

Hacking Your Computer Monitor

Here’s an interesting hack against a computer’s monitor:

A group of researchers has found a way to hack directly into the tiny computer that controls your monitor without getting into your actual computer, and both see the pixels displayed on the monitor—effectively spying on you—and also manipulate the pixels to display different images.

I’ve written a lot about the Internet of Things, and how everything is now a computer. But while it’s true for cars and refrigerators and thermostats, it’s also true for all the parts of your computer. Your keyboard, hard drives, and monitor are all individual computers, and what you think of as your computer is actually a collection of computers working together. So just as the NSA directly attacks the computer that is the hard drive, this attack targets the computer that is your monitor.

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 1:09 PMView Comments

Real-World Security and the Internet of Things

Disaster stories involving the Internet of Things are all the rage. They feature cars (both driven and driverless), the power grid, dams, and tunnel ventilation systems. A particularly vivid and realistic one, near-future fiction published last month in New York Magazine, described a cyberattack on New York that involved hacking of cars, the water system, hospitals, elevators, and the power grid. In these stories, thousands of people die. Chaos ensues. While some of these scenarios overhype the mass destruction, the individual risks are all real. And traditional computer and network security isn’t prepared to deal with them.

Classic information security is a triad: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. You’ll see it called “CIA,” which admittedly is confusing in the context of national security. But basically, the three things I can do with your data are steal it (confidentiality), modify it (integrity), or prevent you from getting it (availability).

So far, Internet threats have largely been about confidentiality. These can be expensive; one survey estimated that data breaches cost an average of $3.8 million each. They can be embarrassing, as in the theft of celebrity photos from Apple’s iCloud in 2014 or the Ashley Madison breach in 2015. They can be damaging, as when the government of North Korea stole tens of thousands of internal documents from Sony or when hackers stole data about 83 million customer accounts from JPMorgan Chase, both in 2014. They can even affect national security, as in the case of the Office of Personnel Management data breach by—presumptively—China in 2015.

On the Internet of Things, integrity and availability threats are much worse than confidentiality threats. It’s one thing if your smart door lock can be eavesdropped upon to know who is home. It’s another thing entirely if it can be hacked to allow a burglar to open the door—or prevent you from opening your door. A hacker who can deny you control of your car, or take over control, is much more dangerous than one who can eavesdrop on your conversations or track your car’s location.

With the advent of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems in general, we’ve given the Internet hands and feet: the ability to directly affect the physical world. What used to be attacks against data and information have become attacks against flesh, steel, and concrete.

Today’s threats include hackers crashing airplanes by hacking into computer networks, and remotely disabling cars, either when they’re turned off and parked or while they’re speeding down the highway. We’re worried about manipulated counts from electronic voting machines, frozen water pipes through hacked thermostats, and remote murder through hacked medical devices. The possibilities are pretty literally endless. The Internet of Things will allow for attacks we can’t even imagine.

The increased risks come from three things: software control of systems, interconnections between systems, and automatic or autonomous systems. Let’s look at them in turn:

Software Control. The Internet of Things is a result of everything turning into a computer. This gives us enormous power and flexibility, but it brings insecurities with it as well. As more things come under software control, they become vulnerable to all the attacks we’ve seen against computers. But because many of these things are both inexpensive and long-lasting, many of the patch and update systems that work with computers and smartphones won’t work. Right now, the only way to patch most home routers is to throw them away and buy new ones. And the security that comes from replacing your computer and phone every few years won’t work with your refrigerator and thermostat: on the average, you replace the former every 15 years, and the latter approximately never. A recent Princeton survey found 500,000 insecure devices on the Internet. That number is about to explode.

Interconnections. As these systems become interconnected, vulnerabilities in one lead to attacks against others. Already we’ve seen Gmail accounts compromised through vulnerabilities in Samsung smart refrigerators, hospital IT networks compromised through vulnerabilities in medical devices, and Target Corporation hacked through a vulnerability in its HVAC system. Systems are filled with externalities that affect other systems in unforeseen and potentially harmful ways. What might seem benign to the designers of a particular system becomes harmful when it’s combined with some other system. Vulnerabilities on one system cascade into other systems, and the result is a vulnerability that no one saw coming and no one bears responsibility for fixing. The Internet of Things will make exploitable vulnerabilities much more common. It’s simple mathematics. If 100 systems are all interacting with each other, that’s about 5,000 interactions and 5,000 potential vulnerabilities resulting from those interactions. If 300 systems are all interacting with each other, that’s 45,000 interactions. 1,000 systems: 12.5 million interactions. Most of them will be benign or uninteresting, but some of them will be very damaging.

Autonomy. Increasingly, our computer systems are autonomous. They buy and sell stocks, turn the furnace on and off, regulate electricity flow through the grid, and—in the case of driverless cars—automatically pilot multi-ton vehicles to their destinations. Autonomy is great for all sorts of reasons, but from a security perspective it means that the effects of attacks can take effect immediately, automatically, and ubiquitously. The more we remove humans from the loop, faster attacks can do their damage and the more we lose our ability to rely on actual smarts to notice something is wrong before it’s too late.

We’re building systems that are increasingly powerful, and increasingly useful. The necessary side effect is that they are increasingly dangerous. A single vulnerability forced Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles in 2015. We’re used to computers being attacked at scale—think of the large-scale virus infections from the last decade—but we’re not prepared for this happening to everything else in our world.

Governments are taking notice. Last year, both Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Director Mike Rogers testified before Congress, warning of these threats. They both believe we’re vulnerable.

This is how it was phrased in the DNI’s 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment: “Most of the public discussion regarding cyber threats has focused on the confidentiality and availability of information; cyber espionage undermines confidentiality, whereas denial-of-service operations and data-deletion attacks undermine availability. In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity (i.e. accuracy and reliability) instead of deleting it or disrupting access to it. Decision-making by senior government officials (civilian and military), corporate executives, investors, or others will be impaired if they cannot trust the information they are receiving.”

The DNI 2016 threat assessment included something similar: “Future cyber operations will almost certainly include an increased emphasis on changing or manipulating data to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) to affect decision making, reduce trust in systems, or cause adverse physical effects. Broader adoption of IoT devices and AI—in settings such as public utilities and healthcare—will only exacerbate these potential effects.”

Security engineers are working on technologies that can mitigate much of this risk, but many solutions won’t be deployed without government involvement. This is not something that the market can solve. Like data privacy, the risks and solutions are too technical for most people and organizations to understand; companies are motivated to hide the insecurity of their own systems from their customers, their users, and the public; the interconnections can make it impossible to connect data breaches with resultant harms; and the interests of the companies often don’t match the interests of the people.

Governments need to play a larger role: setting standards, policing compliance, and implementing solutions across companies and networks. And while the White House Cybersecurity National Action Plan says some of the right things, it doesn’t nearly go far enough, because so many of us are phobic of any government-led solution to anything.

The next president will probably be forced to deal with a large-scale Internet disaster that kills multiple people. I hope he or she responds with both the recognition of what government can do that industry can’t, and the political will to make it happen.

This essay previously appeared on Vice Motherboard.

BoingBoing post.

EDITED TO ADD (8/11): An essay that agrees with me.

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 5:51 AMView Comments

Vulnerabilities in Samsung's SmartThings

Interesting research: Earlence Fernandes, Jaeyeon Jung, and Atul Prakash, “Security Analysis of Emerging Smart Home Applications“:

Abstract: Recently, several competing smart home programming frameworks that support third party app development have emerged. These frameworks provide tangible benefits to users, but can also expose users to significant security risks. This paper presents the first in-depth empirical security analysis of one such emerging smart home programming platform. We analyzed Samsung-owned SmartThings, which has the largest number of apps among currently available smart home platforms, and supports a broad range of devices including motion sensors, fire alarms, and door locks. SmartThings hosts the application runtime on a proprietary, closed-source cloud backend, making scrutiny challenging. We overcame the challenge with a static source code analysis of 499 SmartThings apps (called SmartApps) and 132 device handlers, and carefully crafted test cases that revealed many undocumented features of the platform. Our key findings are twofold. First, although SmartThings implements a privilege separation model, we discovered two intrinsic design flaws that lead to significant overprivilege in SmartApps. Our analysis reveals that over 55% of SmartApps in the store are overprivileged due to the capabilities being too coarse-grained. Moreover, once installed, a SmartApp is granted full access to a device even if it specifies needing only limited access to the device. Second, 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 codes. 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. We conclude the paper with security lessons for the design of emerging smart home programming frameworks.

Research website. News article—copy and paste into a text editor to avoid the ad blocker blocker.

EDITED TO ADD: Another article.

Posted on May 2, 2016 at 9:01 AMView Comments

I'm Writing a Book on Security

I’m writing a book on security in the highly connected Internet-of-Things world. Tentative title:

<blockquote><i>Click Here to Kill Everybody
Peril and Promise in a Hyper-Connected World</i></blockquote>

There are two underlying metaphors in the book. The first is what I have called the World-Sized Web, which is that combination of mobile, cloud, persistence, personalization, agents, cyber-physical systems, and the Internet of Things. The second is what I’m calling the “war of all against all,” which is the recognition that security policy is a series of “wars” between various interests, and that any policy decision in any one of the wars affects all the others. I am not wedded to either metaphor at this point.

This is the current table of contents, with three of the chapters broken out into sub-chapters:

  • Introduction
  • The World-Sized Web
  • The Coming Threats
    • Privacy Threats
    • Availability and Integrity Threats
    • Threats from Software-Controlled Systems
    • Threats from Interconnected Systems
    • Threats from Automatic Algorithms
    • Threats from Autonomous Systems
    • Other Threats of New Technologies
    • Catastrophic Risk
    • Cyberwar
  • The Current Wars
    • The Copyright Wars
    • The US/EU Data Privacy Wars
    • The War for Control of the Internet
    • The War of Secrecy
  • The Coming Wars
    • The War for Your Data
    • The War Against Your Computers
    • The War for Your Embedded Computers
    • The Militarization of the Internet
    • The Powerful vs. the Powerless
    • The Rights of the Individual vs. the Rights of Society
  • The State of Security
  • Near-Term Solutions
  • Security for an Empowered World
  • Conclusion

That will change, of course. If the past is any guide, everything will change.

Questions: Am I missing any threats? Am I missing any wars?

Current schedule is for me to finish writing this book by the end of September, and have it published at the end of April 2017. I hope to have pre-publication copies available for sale at the RSA Conference next year. As with my previous book, Norton is the publisher.

So if you notice me blogging less this summer, this is why.

Posted on April 29, 2016 at 1:02 PMView Comments

The Importance of Strong Encryption to Security

Encryption keeps you safe. Encryption protects your financial details and passwords when you bank online. It protects your cell phone conversations from eavesdroppers. If you encrypt your laptop—and I hope you do—it protects your data if your computer is stolen. It protects our money and our privacy.

Encryption protects the identity of dissidents all over the world. It’s a vital tool to allow journalists to communicate securely with their sources, NGOs to protect their work in repressive countries, and lawyers to communicate privately with their clients. It protects our vital infrastructure: our communications network, the power grid and everything else. And as we move to the Internet of Things with its cars and thermostats and medical devices, all of which can destroy life and property if hacked and misused, encryption will become even more critical to our security.

Security is more than encryption, of course. But encryption is a critical component of security. You use strong encryption every day, and our Internet-laced world would be a far riskier place if you didn’t.

Strong encryption means unbreakable encryption. Any weakness in encryption will be exploited—by hackers, by criminals and by foreign governments. Many of the hacks that make the news can be attributed to weak or—even worse—nonexistent encryption.

The FBI wants the ability to bypass encryption in the course of criminal investigations. This is known as a “backdoor,” because it’s a way at the encrypted information that bypasses the normal encryption mechanisms. I am sympathetic to such claims, but as a technologist I can tell you that there is no way to give the FBI that capability without weakening the encryption against all adversaries. This is crucial to understand. I can’t build an access technology that only works with proper legal authorization, or only for people with a particular citizenship or the proper morality. The technology just doesn’t work that way.

If a backdoor exists, then anyone can exploit it. All it takes is knowledge of the backdoor and the capability to exploit it. And while it might temporarily be a secret, it’s a fragile secret. Backdoors are how everyone attacks computer systems.

This means that if the FBI can eavesdrop on your conversations or get into your computers without your consent, so can cybercriminals. So can the Chinese. So can terrorists. You might not care if the Chinese government is inside your computer, but lots of dissidents do. As do the many Americans who use computers to administer our critical infrastructure. Backdoors weaken us against all sorts of threats.

Either we build encryption systems to keep everyone secure, or we build them to leave everybody vulnerable.

Even a highly sophisticated backdoor that could only be exploited by nations like the United States and China today will leave us vulnerable to cybercriminals tomorrow. That’s just the way technology works: things become easier, cheaper, more widely accessible. Give the FBI the ability to hack into a cell phone today, and tomorrow you’ll hear reports that a criminal group used that same ability to hack into our power grid.

The FBI paints this as a trade-off between security and privacy. It’s not. It’s a trade-off between more security and less security. Our national security needs strong encryption. I wish I could give the good guys the access they want without also giving the bad guys access, but I can’t. If the FBI gets its way and forces companies to weaken encryption, all of us—our data, our networks, our infrastructure, our society—will be at risk.

This essay previously appeared in the New York Times “Room for Debate” blog. It’s something I seem to need to say again and again.

Posted on February 25, 2016 at 6:40 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.