By Ian Heritage
At Trend Micro we spend a great deal of time working on ways to secure the Internet of Things (IoT) more effectively. But one of the challenges facing us is that smart products are being produced on an ever-increasing scale with little care paid to security or privacy. In short, market forces have failed to improve standards as time-to-market and usability continues to trump security. That’s why it’s great to see the publication of a new globally applicable European standard this week designed to improve baseline security in the industry.
Now comes the hard part: getting manufacturers around the world to adopt it, and consumers to start seeking out compliant products.
A landmark proposal
The new standard comes from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), after a UK proposal based on its own code of conduct published in October 2018. The UK has also shown leadership in this space after a British Standards Institution (BSI) kitemark was announced back in May 2018.
ETSI TS 103 645 has been described as a “landmark specification for consumers and industry alike”. It features a whole host of requirements which will please security advocates no end. These include:
• No universal default passwords
• Software update mechanisms
• Vulnerability reporting mechanisms
• Secure storage of credentials and sensitive data
• Secure communications
• Minimised attack surfaces
• Easy installation and maintenance
In particular, removing the option for default passwords will help mitigate the threat of Mirai-like attacks which search for these exposed credentials on the internet before conscripting devices into botnets. Vulnerability and software update systems are also an important requirement as these are often lacking in IoT manufacturers — especially those that don’t hail from an IT-centric background.
Why it’s important
These may be consumer devices, but they still matter to corporate security, for several reasons:
1) In some cases, organisations may buy in consumer-grade devices like smart TVs for the boardroom, or smart kettles, fridges and toasters for staff kitchens. Yet these can unwittingly open the digital back door for hackers to sneak into the corporate network.
2) Unsecured smart home devices like routers, security cameras, and DVRs can be attacked and conscripted into botnets to launch DDoS and data stealing attacks on organisations, commit click fraud, mine crypto-currency and more. Trend Micro’s 2019 predictions report warned of a new “IoT worm war” using these techniques.
3) Smart home devices can also represent a serious threat to organisations via their home workers. Vulnerable smart speakers and other gadgets could be hacked to provide attackers with a stepping stone into corporate networks.
The standard offers a clear framework for manufacturers to improve the security of their products and in so doing appeal to increasingly security-minded consumers. But to be successful, it will need to get a critical mass of IoT producers on board, and to publicise itself effectively to customers.
Securing consumer-grade IoT kit is also only one of the broader security challenges facing the industry. Organisations are also exposed via the convergence of IT and OT systems in industries like manufacturing and construction. Legacy operating systems, problems with patching, insecure protocols, limited authentication and other issues present serious cyber risks to these firms.
That’s why Trend Micro is collaborating with telcos, IoT device makers, technology multi-nationals and other stakeholders to secure the connected world. Our offerings stretch from the datacentre (Deep Security) to the network (Tipping Point appliances and Deep Discovery) to carrier environments (Virtual Network Function Suite), and IIoT systems (Safe Lock). That’s why we welcome the new ETSI standard, but also caution that this is just the beginning in a long journey to improve IoT security.