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New research from online security company Proofpoint has uncovered what it thinks may be the first proven Internet of Things-based cyberattack involving conventional household “smart” appliances.
The attack, it says, involved more than 750 000 malicious email communications coming from more than 100 000 everyday consumer gadgets such as “home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator”.
Effectively the attack appears to compromise smart objects in the same way as others turn computers into so-called “botnets” that can be used to launch large-scale cyber-attacks.
According to Proofpoint:
Cyber criminals intent on stealing individual identities and infiltrating enterprise IT systems have found a target-rich environment in these poorly protected internet connected devices that may be more attractive and easier to infect and control than PC, laptops, or tablets.
The attack that Proofpoint observed and profiled reportedly occurred between 23 December 2013 and 6 January 2014, and featured waves of malicious email, typically sent in bursts of 100 000, three times a day, targeting big businesses and individuals worldwide. The security company says more than 25% of the volume was sent by things that were not conventional laptops, desktop computers or mobile devices.
“Bot-nets are already a major security concern and the emergence of thingbots may make the situation much worse,” says David Knight, General Manager of Proofpoint’s Information Security division. “Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur. Enterprises may find distributed attacks increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them.”
Indeed, as more and more objects come online — something that seems fairly inevitable given coining of the phrase “the Internet of Everything” — it’s pretty likely that the security risks will only increase. This is even more likely when you consider that smart objects are typically not protected by the anti-spam and anti-virus infrastructures available to businesses and ordinary people, nor are they routinely monitored by dedicated IT teams or alerting software to receive patches to address new security issues as they arise.
“The ‘Internet of Things’ holds great promise for enabling control of all of the gadgets that we use on a daily basis. It also holds great promise for cybercriminals who can use our homes’ routers, televisions, refrigerators and other Internet-connected devices to launch large and distributed attacks,” says Michael Osterman, principal analyst at Osterman Research. “Internet-enabled devices represent an enormous threat because they are easy to penetrate, consumers have little incentive to make them more secure, the rapidly growing number of devices can send malicious content almost undetected, few vendors are taking steps to protect against this threat, and the existing security model simply won’t work to solve the problem.”