IoT (Internet of Things) Security Issues Increase

IoT (Internet of Things) is simply a fancy way of expressing that we have more devices online and connected to the internet than ever before when compared to my favorite tradition of Desktop PCs, Tablets and Phones. With the advent of embedded computing becoming more affordable, powerful and easier to develop than ever using tools like Raspberry Pi based on the ARM platform, this means we have a plethora of new devices and embedded, internet connected devices added to every day things we use.

Common examples of these are new cars, alarm systems, video cameras/surveillance systems, fridges, stoves, home locks, lights, watches, medical equipment and so much more.
The security issue with these devices is more challenging and complex than ever before for both the end user and businesses using them.

There is no doubt or anyone in denial that it’s an issue and the privacy, security and financial risks can be quite high. Security in general works on the basis of weakest link and it is arguable that a random internet connected device in your house or business poses an immense security risk with some of these devices having little to no security or out in the wild vulnerabilities.

These devices are certainly not impossible to secure, in fact the majority of them are easy to secure but it’s simply not the forefront or priority of most device makers or developers. Because of this devices are often completely unsecured and don’t even need to be hacked, sometimes they run a telnet,ssh or web daemon which can be accessed with no password or a dictionary password like admin/admin root/root or with just a username. There are others which cannot be easily updated which have vulnerabilities that end up being found later and exploited. Even more difficult some of these devices are physically inaccessible and installed in appliances and other devices where it can be harder to update them. A lot of companies would be reluctant to push out updates because often if the update failed it would render the device useless without physical intervention.

We can only hope standards emerge in the industry where updates will be easier, standard and guaranteed but this is unlikely to happen. Even with companies who use these products and recognize it is an issue there is only so much planning that can be done for devices that are not easily managed or accessible.

The only practical solution today is to try to firewall and physically isolate IoT devices where ever possible to reduce the risk (but for a lot of companies this is not easy or practical). At the end of the day more advanced network planning and management will be required and so will hardware firewalls play an ever increasing role in trying to prevent and detect attacks to these devices.

My Take On WannaCry

Reading media coverage of the WannaCry, ransomware attack has been excruciatingly frustrating because little to no information was offered on how infection happens and how to protect yourself.

This issue has been a bit frustrating and unhelpful as an IT professional and user if I didn’t find the right answers there is something seriously wrong.  I couldn’t find the important information in any of the mainstream articles so certainly a novice or amateur user would have no chance of protecting themselves.

How Did WannaCry Infect and Spread?

Long version here from Malwarebytes

One of the key ways is still the oldest “phishing” trick in the book, via e-mail which many users are tricked into opening infected attachments.  This was not readily available in media coverage and this simple warning or announcement could have prevented a lot of new infections.  I believe this is a key factor that has not been discussed since many networks will be behind NAT and external SMB services would be blocked, having users on the LAN install the worm is an easy way to get inside and spread the infection to areas that are hardened on the outside.

The more technical explanation there is an exploit called “ETERNALBLUE” which was a hacking tool leaked from the NSA which exploited a weakness in Microsoft’s implementation of SMB (Server Message Block/filesharing protocol).   This has been widely reported but the simple way to prevent automatic infection through this method has not.

Once infected the worm essentially scans your LAN and then the internet to spread the infection further which quickly multiplied the damage and scope of this attack.

How to protect yourself?

  1. First and foremost is to update your Microsoft Windows regardless of OS (whether you have XP, Vista, 7, 10, 12 or any Server) because all Microsoft versions are apparently impacted by MS17-010 ETERNALBLUE/WannaCry
  2. Disable SMB/Filesharing in Windows and if that is not possible at least use firewall settings to block SMB/filesharing/CIFS.
  3. If the above is not possible you should physically unplug any impacted machines from the network (it could be a simple as disabling all ports on your network/switch or even unplugging entire switches if possible).

Who is to blame?

There is plenty of blame to go around but currently a lot of it is coming from Microsoft who is blaming users for not patching and the NSA for hoarding these exploits and not notifying them or users beforehand.

In all fairness Microsoft did issue patches for even unsupported OS’s like Vista and XP on March 14th, 2017.

Many have mused that the NSA should have at last notified Microsoft the moment they realized their hacking tools were leaked.

At the end of the day the question is how could Microsoft have left open such a serious vulnerability for so long?  Was it an intentional backdoor and was it collaboration between Microsoft and the NSA or other third parties?

Some Can’t Patch

Some systems may be running on internal networks on their own LAN but were still infected so they wouldn’t be patched.  To make matters worse the chances are these would more likely be critical data and infrastructure that are impacted in this case.

Other machines are not managed properly or remotely and are deployed with internet access making them sitting ducks for these types of attacks.

There are also some who just don’t patch because the risk to impacting existing services is too great.  Although I would argue the risk is much higher to not patch and not upgrade or migrate your applications to a more secure platform if you get hit with ransomware like this.

These Issues Are Nothing New

With the Snowden revelations many have worried that US tech companies being forced to provide backdoor access to the NSA would be vulnerable should other hackers discovery the vulnerabilities or intentional backdoors on their own, or in this case when the tools and exploits were somehow leaked.

In the wider scope of things Microsoft has seen worms of this scale in the past, it’s nothing new.  There are no worldwide protocols for notifying users or defending against such worms and this will certainly become an increasingly problem with more and more devices online especially with IoT and so many devices that are connected that we don’t think about, and that don’t get patched or may not have an easy or automatic way of updating.