The Internet of Things (IoT) is the broadest category of wifi-connected devices. IoT encompasses everything from computers and iPads to smart fridges and doorbells. These devices have dramatically increased efficiency and convenience, allowing you to change your room temperature, unlock your front door and make your toast the perfect shade of brown.
Aside from personal IoT devices, commercial IoTs represent an incredibly vital piece of architecture. For example, IoTs are increasingly being used in the healthcare and transport industries, playing vital roles such as smart pacemakers and lorry monitoring systems.
The military’s interest in IoT devices encompasses surveillance devices and human-wearable biometrics. These lend a key advantage to tacticians and officers, as it suddenly becomes possible to analyze a far-off battlefield in real-time. At the same time, digital control systems have started to dominate the manufacturing and energy sectors.
The number of IoT connections first outstripped the number of computers and laptops in 2020. IoT devices now represent over half of the 21.7 billion active connected devices.
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable at the very existence of Samsung smart fridges, then here is one reason to feel outright terrified.
Unfortunately, most IoT devices are not built with network security in mind. Few IoT devices have space for an internal firewall or security application. Other security features such as passwords are often badly neglected, and regularly left at default by unassuming users.
Furthermore, from a business perspective, the sheer wealth and scale of IoT devices make them a logistical nightmare. Managing the activity of every single IoT device quickly becomes overwhelming – this problem is only exacerbated when the IoT devices are owned by employees.
For example, in 2020 a severe security issue was discovered in the Linux-based uClibc library. This allowed for DNS poisoning attacks, where attackers can forge a DNS endpoint, deceiving the DNS client into communicating with an illegitimate endpoint. This Linux library was present in a large number of wireless routers and Axis-branded network cameras.
It was shortly announced that no patch would be issued.
Attempting to protect yourself from the hodgepodge of vulnerabilities that IoT introduces is also mired in uncertainty. Many companies use a wide range of different devices which in turn run different software via different chips. Some may even use different methods to connect to the wifi. This is called device heterogeneity and creates an enormous barrier to defending your network.
DDoS attacks disrupt industries and leave legitimate customers out in the dark. An analogy for how DDoS attacks manipulate online traffic is looking at our own roads.
Imagine a small but important connecting route; legitimate road users pull on and off this road on their way to work, or to see friends. A DDoS attack would be the equivalent of standstill traffic suddenly jamming up this route, blocking legitimate road users from getting to their destination.
The extra network traffic is pinged to and from infected devices, known as bots. Traditionally, the larger the botnet – the harder the DDoS attack hits. Whereas old school botnets largely consisted of laptops and computers, the rise of IoT has given criminals the chance to hugely swell their botnet ranks.
This came in the form of the Mirai botnet. Mirai has already been responsible for one of the largest DDoS attacks on record against a significant figure in the cybersecurity space. Throwing a massive 280GPS attack at cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs’ site, this attack was launched from 49,657 unique IPs. But how did this botnet become so large?
Mirai’s first function is to recruit. Here, the code performs some wide-range scans to detect any nearby IP addresses. The goal here is to discover and locate under-secured IoT devices. After a few gentle probes, Mirai has discovered a potential hit.
Now, its goal is to gain access to the device. Mirai achieves this through a process called credential stuffing. Whereas a password such as ‘Ilikechips’ would take a credential-stuffing bot about 13 millennia to crack, the Mirai creators know that most consumers do not change the default passwords on their small, unassuming IoT devices. Mirai simply works through a list of factory default usernames – known as a dictionary attack.
Once it is gained access, Mirai will largely sit in silence, waiting for instructions from the attacker’s command and control server. Fascinatingly enough, however, Mirai does perform some extra scans whilst it waits. Mirai is territorial in nature, and it searches a device’s memory for evidence of any other botnet herders. If found, it destroys the other malware. It will also prohibit any other remote connections.
Securing your IoT
Though there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the problem of IoT security, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
The first solution zeros in on the devices themselves. Always make sure to change the default password when a device arrives, and try to set up as much two-factor authentication as possible. This way – in the event that a dictionary attack is successful – you still retain control over your account.
Minimize possible points of attack by researching which IoT devices you are shopping for. If you are already highly dependent on IoT devices, consider splitting your network up into Content Distribution Networks (CDNs), and restricting which parts of your network are exposed to direct traffic.
The other solution focuses on protecting your network from an eventual DDoS attack.
The most powerful move against DDoS is to plan for scale. Returning to our analogy, a road that broadens can adapt to a major influx of traffic; you can retain vital business functions even when a DDoS attack is underway.
At the same time, investing all that extra money into unnecessary bandwidth could cripple your revenue, so adaptive cloud-based solutions can give you the best of both worlds.
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I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.