Entries Tagged "Internet of Things"

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DMCA and the Internet of Things

In theory, the Internet of Things—the connected network of tiny computers inside home appliances, household objects, even clothing—promises to make your life easier and your work more efficient. These computers will communicate with each other and the Internet in homes and public spaces, collecting data about their environment and making changes based on the information they receive. In theory, connected sensors will anticipate your needs, saving you time, money, and energy.

Except when the companies that make these connected objects act in a way that runs counter to the consumer’s best interests—as the technology company Philips did recently with its smart ambient-lighting system, Hue, which consists of a central controller that can remotely communicate with light bulbs. In mid-December, the company pushed out a software update that made the system incompatible with some other manufacturers’ light bulbs, including bulbs that had previously been supported.

The complaints began rolling in almost immediately. The Hue system was supposed to be compatible with an industry standard called ZigBee, but the bulbs that Philips cut off were ZigBee-compliant. Philips backed down and restored compatibility a few days later.

But the story of the Hue debacle—the story of a company using copy protection technology to lock out competitors—isn’t a new one. Plenty of companies set up proprietary standards to ensure that their customers don’t use someone else’s products with theirs. Keurig, for example, puts codes on its single-cup coffee pods, and engineers its coffeemakers to work only with those codes. HP has done the same thing with its printers and ink cartridges.

To stop competitors just reverse-engineering the proprietary standard and making compatible peripherals (for example, another coffee manufacturer putting Keurig’s codes on its own pods), these companies rely on a 1998 law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The law was originally passed to prevent people from pirating music and movies; while it hasn’t done a lot of good in that regard (as anyone who uses BitTorrent can attest), it has done a lot to inhibit security and compatibility research.

Specifically, the DMCA includes an anti-circumvention provision, which prohibits companies from circumventing “technological protection measures” that “effectively control access” to copyrighted works. That means it’s illegal for someone to create a Hue-compatible light bulb without Philips’ permission, a K-cup-compatible coffee pod without Keurigs’, or an HP-printer compatible cartridge without HP’s.

By now, we’re used to this in the computer world. In the 1990s, Microsoft used a strategy it called “embrace, extend, extinguish,” in which it gradually added proprietary capabilities to products that already adhered to widely used standards. Some more recent examples: Amazon’s e-book format doesn’t work on other companies’ readers, music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store doesn’t work with other music players, and every game console has its own proprietary game cartridge format.

Because companies can enforce anti-competitive behavior this way, there’s a litany of things that just don’t exist, even though they would make life easier for consumers in significant ways. You can’t have custom software for your cochlear implant, or your programmable thermostat, or your computer-enabled Barbie doll. An auto repair shop can’t design a better diagnostic system that interfaces with a car’s computers. And John Deere has claimed that it owns the software on all of its tractors, meaning the farmers that purchase them are prohibited from repairing or modifying their property.

As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent, so too will this kind of anti-competitive behavior—which undercuts the purpose of having smart objects in the first place. We’ll want our light bulbs to communicate with a central controller, regardless of manufacturer. We’ll want our clothes to communicate with our washing machines and our cars to communicate with traffic signs.

We can’t have this when companies can cut off compatible products, or use the law to prevent competitors from reverse-engineering their products to ensure compatibility across brands. For the Internet of Things to provide any value, what we need is a world that looks like the automotive industry, where you can go to a store and buy replacement parts made by a wide variety of different manufacturers. Instead, the Internet of Things is on track to become a battleground of competing standards, as companies try to build monopolies by locking each other out.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Slashdot thread.

EDITED TO ADD (1/5): Interesting commentary.

Posted on December 29, 2015 at 5:58 AMView Comments

Using Samsung's Internet-Enabled Refrigerator for Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

This is interesting research:

Whilst the fridge implements SSL, it FAILS to validate SSL certificates, thereby enabling man-in-the-middle attacks against most connections. This includes those made to Google’s servers to download Gmail calendar information for the on-screen display.

So, MITM the victim’s fridge from next door, or on the road outside and you can potentially steal their Google credentials.

The notable exception to the rule above is when the terminal connects to the update server—we were able to isolate the URL https://www.samsungotn.net which is the same used by TVs, etc. We generated a set of certificates with the exact same contents as those on the real website (fake server cert + fake CA signing cert) in the hope that the validation was weak but it failed.

The terminal must have a copy of the CA and is making sure that the server’s cert is signed against that one. We can’t hack this without access to the file system where we could replace the CA it is validating against. Long story short we couldn’t intercept communications between the fridge terminal and the update server.

When I think about the security implications of the Internet of things, this is one of my primary worries. As we connect things to each other, vulnerabilities on one of them affect the security of another. And because so many of the things we connect to the Internet will be poorly designed, and low cost, there will be lots of vulnerabilities in them. Expect a lot more of this kind of thing as we move forward.

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): Dave Barry reblogged me.

Posted on August 31, 2015 at 1:56 PMView Comments

Hacking Drug Pumps

When you connect hospital drug pumps to the Internet, they’re hackable. This is only surprising to people who aren’t paying attention.

Rios says when he first told Hospira a year ago that hackers could update the firmware on its pumps, the company “didn’t believe it could be done.” Hospira insisted there was “separation” between the communications module and the circuit board that would make this impossible. Rios says technically there is physical separation between the two. But the serial cable provides a bridge to jump from one to the other.

An attacker wouldn’t need physical access to the pump because the communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet.

“From an architecture standpoint, it looks like these two modules are separated,” he says. “But when you open the device up, you can see they’re actually connected with a serial cable, and they”re connected in a way that you can actually change the core software on the pump.”

An attacker wouldn’t need physical access to the pump. The communication modules are connected to hospital networks, which are in turn connected to the Internet. “You can talk to that communication module over the network or over a wireless network,” Rios warns.

Hospira knows this, he says, because this is how it delivers firmware updates to its pumps. Yet despite this, he says, the company insists that “the separation makes it so you can’t hurt someone. So we’re going to develop a proof-of-concept that proves that’s not true.”

One of the biggest conceptual problems we have is that something is believed secure until demonstrated otherwise. We need to reverse that: everything should be believed insecure until demonstrated otherwise.

Posted on June 17, 2015 at 2:02 PMView Comments

Samsung Television Spies on Viewers

Earlier this week, we learned that Samsung televisions are eavesdropping on their owners. If you have one of their Internet-connected smart TVs, you can turn on a voice command feature that saves you the trouble of finding the remote, pushing buttons and scrolling through menus. But making that feature work requires the television to listen to everything you say. And what you say isn’t just processed by the television; it may be forwarded over the Internet for remote processing. It’s literally Orwellian.

This discovery surprised people, but it shouldn’t have. The things around us are increasingly computerized, and increasingly connected to the Internet. And most of them are listening.

Our smartphones and computers, of course, listen to us when we’re making audio and video calls. But the microphones are always there, and there are ways a hacker, government, or clever company can turn those microphones on without our knowledge. Sometimes we turn them on ourselves. If we have an iPhone, the voice-processing system Siri listens to us, but only when we push the iPhone’s button. Like Samsung, iPhones with the “Hey Siri” feature enabled listen all the time. So do Android devices with the “OK Google” feature enabled, and so does an Amazon voice-activated system called Echo. Facebook has the ability to turn your smartphone’s microphone on when you’re using the app.

Even if you don’t speak, our computers are paying attention. Gmail “listens” to everything you write, and shows you advertising based on it. It might feel as if you’re never alone. Facebook does the same with everything you write on that platform, and even listens to the things you type but don’t post. Skype doesn’t listen—we think—but as Der Spiegel notes, data from the service “has been accessible to the NSA’s snoops” since 2011.

So the NSA certainly listens. It listens directly, and it listens to all these companies listening to you. So do other countries like Russia and China, which we really don’t want listening so closely to their citizens.

It’s not just the devices that listen; most of this data is transmitted over the Internet. Samsung sends it to what was referred to as a “third party” in its policy statement. It later revealed that third party to be a company you’ve never heard of—Nuance—that turns the voice into text for it. Samsung promises that the data is erased immediately. Most of the other companies that are listening promise no such thing and, in fact, save your data for a long time. Governments, of course, save it, too.

This data is a treasure trove for criminals, as we are learning again and again as tens and hundreds of millions of customer records are repeatedly stolen. Last week, it was reported that hackers had accessed the personal records of some 80 million Anthem Health customers and others. Last year, it was Home Depot, JP Morgan, Sony and many others. Do we think Nuance’s security is better than any of these companies? I sure don’t.

At some level, we’re consenting to all this listening. A single sentence in Samsung’s 1,500-word privacy policy, the one most of us don’t read, stated: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” Other services could easily come with a similar warning: Be aware that your e-mail provider knows what you’re saying to your colleagues and friends and be aware that your cell phone knows where you sleep and whom you’re sleeping with—assuming that you both have smartphones, that is.

The Internet of Things is full of listeners. Newer cars contain computers that record speed, steering wheel position, pedal pressure, even tire pressure—and insurance companies want to listen. And, of course, your cell phone records your precise location at all times you have it on—and possibly even when you turn it off. If you have a smart thermostat, it records your house’s temperature, humidity, ambient light and any nearby movement. Any fitness tracker you’re wearing records your movements and some vital signs; so do many computerized medical devices. Add security cameras and recorders, drones and other surveillance airplanes, and we’re being watched, tracked, measured and listened to almost all the time.

It’s the age of ubiquitous surveillance, fueled by both Internet companies and governments. And because it’s largely happening in the background, we’re not really aware of it.

This has to change. We need to regulate the listening: both what is being collected and how it’s being used. But that won’t happen until we know the full extent of surveillance: who’s listening and what they’re doing with it. Samsung buried its listening details in its privacy policy—they have since amended it to be clearer—and we’re only having this discussion because a Daily Beast reporter stumbled upon it. We need more explicit conversation about the value of being able to speak freely in our living rooms without our televisions listening, or having e-mail conversations without Google or the government listening. Privacy is a prerequisite for free expression, and losing that would be an enormous blow to our society.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

ETA (2/16): A German translation by Damian Weber.

Posted on February 13, 2015 at 7:01 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.