IoT – promise or threat?

2016 is proving to be the year of the Internet of Things, and the latest analyst forecasts indicate that growth will continue to accelerate through the year. But, in this highly connected environment, new security threats and creative forms of cyber attack are emerging to exploit any weak links. Botnets, Thingbots and ransomware are already making the headlines.

The Internet of Things promises many benefits for both consumers and business. But, without strong security, attacks similar to those that affected more than 100,000 devices could become an everyday occurrence.

Getting connected on a massive scale

Adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) is accelerating. Gartner predicts that, in 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day and spending on IoT services will reach $235 billion, up 22 percent from 2015.

Forrester’s IoT Heat Map 2016 highlights the sectors where adoption is strongest. These include security and surveillance, inventory and warehousing, customer order and delivery tracking, and smart products. The report found that 23 percent of enterprises surveyed were already using the IoT, with another 29 percent planning to do so within 12 months.

Forrester also predicted that business customers and consumers will automatically ask vendors about the sensor capabilities in mobile apps for new machines or devices. And, insurance companies will begin to promote smart home discounts.

The major players are starting to collaborate in preparation for the massive growth in this sector. In late February, for example, Ericsson and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a partnership to help service providers use the AWS cloud to quickly roll out and expand services for IoT applications.

Connected healthcare devices highlight IoT health risks

One sector illustrates the potential benefits, and the risks for IoT. The Internet of Things is revolutionizing healthcare with connected smartphone apps, wearable fitness trackers and special-purpose devices for monitoring and tracking patients’ vital signs. These devices also help patients access healthcare advice or get help in emergencies.

2015 was a good year for healthcare, but it was also the year IoT got hacked.

Botnets, also known as zombie armies, are posing a huge threat to IoT security. They are capable of attacking critical infrastructure and distributing malware through weak links in the chain. In a connected environment, this can result in further infected devices within the network. And, most of the time, this happens without the knowledge of the device owner.

Connected medical devices are just one of the IoT categories that have proved to be vulnerable to hackers. It will take considerable work to secure these connected devices. But, until then, there are genuine concerns over the security of medical information and a significant risk compromising patient confidentiality.

The Botnets are coming

Botnets have the opportunity to thrive in the IoT environment because many of these connected devices don’t have malware protection. Just a few years ago, news spread like wildfire when Proofpoint, a California-based security company, reported that they had discovered a Botnet attack affecting over 100,000 connected devices between December 23rd 2013 and January 6th 2014. The affected devices included routers, multimedia centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator.

At the time, Symantec dismissed the reports, claiming that the IoT devices, including the refrigerator, were not the source of the massive spam attack. According to Symantec, the refrigerator just happened to be on the same network as an infected computer and this misunderstanding had led to reports of refrigerators sending spam. In their view, that specific spam attack was generated by a typical Botnet based on an infected Windows computer.

A breeding ground for new threats

However, even Symantec went on to admit that, although the refrigerators were not on the culprit list, the potential for IoT devices to send spam was not impossible. In fact in November 2013, Symantec themselves had uncovered one of the first and most interesting IoT threats, Linux.Darlloz, which infects Linux-based IoT devices such as routers, cameras, and entertainment systems.

With the proliferation of Internet applications and services in the early 2000s, cyber criminals discovered a treasure-trove to explore and exploit by using Botnets and ransomware. Now, with the rise of the IoT, a new generation of malware is emerging.

As well as Botnets, security firms have identified another evolution of malware known as Thingbots. It was Proofpoint who coined the name in 2014 and now there are more frequent reports confirming that these threats are becoming very active.

Once more unto the breach

Although the threat is increasing, it’s also clear that businesses are not prepared for these new types of attack. IDC predicts that, by 2018, 66 percent of networks will experience an IoT security breach and, by 2020, 10 percent of all cyber attacks will target IoT systems.

Despite this, PwC’s 2016 Global State of Information Security report, which is based on responses from VPs and directors of IT and security practices from 127 countries, found that only 36 percent of respondents had a security strategy for IoT.

Sean Tierney, VP of Threat Intelligence for IID, an Internet security company, predicts that, by 2018, Botnet operators will be getting more creative in their exploitation of wearables and connected home products. According to Tierney, these IoT Botnets will be used for everyday DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, pay-per-click fraud, and other wide-ranging cyber attacks.

Time to be prepared

It’s clear that IoT security must become a priority and a significant component of enterprise security budgets now. However, the situation should stabilize in subsequent years as more and more companies recognize the cost, business and security benefits of partnering with managed service providers like Virtual Tech Gurus. Deploying managed proactive monitoring will systematically prevent attacks and help companies deploy secure IoT solutions and stay a step ahead of the cyber criminals.

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