When IoT Attacks – The End of the World as We Know It?

Excerpts of my interview with Phil Muncaster @philmuncaster

InfoSecurity Magazine Q4/2017, 4 October 2017


Focus on the Firmware

A cursory look at OWASP’s IoT Security Guidance will highlight just how many elements in the IoT ecosystem could be exploited. Among others, these include the web interface, network, transport encryption layer, mobile app and device firmware. The latter is a key area of focus for the prpl Foundation, a non-profit which is trying to coral the industry into taking a new hardware-based approach to IoT security. Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist, claims that hackers could exploit IoT chip firmware to re-flash the image, allowing them to reboot and execute arbitrary code. “The issue with this kind of attack is that it gives the hackers complete control of the device and it is persistent; it can’t be undone via a system reboot, for example”, he tells Infosecurity. The answer is to ensure IoT systems will only boot up if the first piece of software to execute is cryptographically signed by a trusted entity. “It needs to match on the other side with a public key or certificate which is hard-coded into the device, anchoring the ‘Root of Trust’ into the hardware to make it tamper proof ”, says Garlati.

Worst Case Scenario

The prpl Foundation also points out that proprietary code is less secure than open source, that connectivity is often poorly engineered and that too many systems allow lateral movement at a chip level, ignoring the best practice rule of ‘security by separation’. The best way to mitigate the latter issue is via chip-layer virtualization, Garlati explains. The question is, beyond data theft and DDoS-related outages, what harm could deficient IoT security genuinely do to society? Pioneering work by Miller and Valasek into connected car security first showed us back in 2015 how a vehicle could be remotely hacked and consequently steering and brakes manipulated, potentially to catastrophic effect. Then Kremlin-linked attacks on Ukrainian power stations in December 2015 and again in 2016 highlighted how – in one instance – IoT firmware could be successfully hacked and reflashed to disrupt energy supplies for hundreds of thousands. “The pressure brought by consumer groups, lawyers and governments will force IoT makers to produce more secure kit” “From isolated incidents to widespread chaos that could be possible with the manipulation of the electrical grid, the potential for damage is huge. It’s almost limitless” As the IoT works its way into ever more critical computing systems, the potential for devastating attacks multiplies, according to Sean Joyce, US cybersecurity & privacy leader at PwC. “Even the US military is concerned about IoT risks,” he explains. “A recent Government Accountability Office report outlined several national threat scenarios in which IoT security risks might harm Defense Department operations, equipment or personnel. These examples include the potential sabotage of a mission or equipment, operations security and intelligence collection and the endangerment of leadership.” Attacks might be easier to launch than many IoT-manufacturers think. Munro claims that simply by hacking and remotely controlling home smart thermostats en masse, an attacker could take down the entire power grid.

What Can We Do?

Given the huge security challenges associated with current IoT systems, the market has clearly failed, despite 90% of consumers now believing security should be built into devices, according to Irdeto. However, governments are responding. In the US, senators have introduced the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, designed to improve baseline security in the market by tightening the requirements for government suppliers. In the UK, the government recently published guidelines for connected car manufacturers, in a bid to improve standards. However, Munro thinks the rightapproach should combine regulation and litigation. “Regulations take a long time,” he says.“It’s fantastic to see, but in the meantime we need to see more litigation [of the kind faced recently by] Bose and WeVibe. The pressure brought by consumer groups, lawyers and governments will force IoT makers to produce more secure kit.” Until then, it’ll be down to CISOs to mitigate IoT security risk inside the enterprise. Yet according to PwC’s latest research, only 35% of organizations plan to assess device and system interconnectivity and vulnerabilities across the business ecosystem. This needs to change. IT also needs to strictly monitor IoT device usage, enable security protection on all devices, segment devices onto non-critical networks, encrypt all IoT comms and educate staff about the dangers, says Context’s Higginson “From isolated incidents to widespread chaos that could be possible with the manipulation of the electrical grid, the potential for damage is huge,” warns prpl Foundation’s Garlati. “It’s almost limitless.

*   *   *

Read full story at https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/digital-editions/digital-edition-q4-2017/


Embedded World 2017 – IoT coming of age.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Embedded World 2017 in Germany as I was invited to give a couple of presentations on the pioneering work we have been doing at the prpl Foundation with regards to the prplHypervisor™ and prplPUF™ APIs for securing IoT. As it turns out, IoT was the top line at the conference that drew in more than 30,000 trade visitors – and the event solidified the notion that embedded computing is now synonymous with IoT.

Read more of this post

Virtualization, silicon, and open source are conspiring to secure the Internet of Things

My chat with Brandon Lewis, Technology Editor at  IoT Design, highlighting prpl’s push around roots-of-trust, virtualization, open source, and interoperability in order to secure the Internet of Things (IoT).

Credits: Brandon Lewis, IoT Design, January 28, 2016 @TechieLew

security-guidance-coverThe prpl Foundation is known for open source tools and frameworks like OpenWrt and QEMU, but has recently ventured into the security domain with a new Security prpl Engineering Group (PEG) and the “Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Embedded Computing” document, not to mention wooing you away from your role at security giant Trend Micro. What can you tell us about the drivers behind these moves?

Cesare: One way to look at it is a supply-and-demand schema. On the demand side, according to Gartner, the security market was worth $77 billion in 2015 and it’s going to grow much faster. One strong demand-side driver is the need for stronger security, because industry is not doing a very good job of it – and when I say industry I mean from silicon to software to services – and all of the spending is not resulting in better information security. Read more of this post

How to Fix the Internet of Broken Things

iot-securityThe Internet of Things is already permeating every part of our lives – from healthcare to aviation, automobiles to telecoms. But its security is fundamentally broken. In my previous blog I’ve shown how vulnerabilities found by security researchers could have catastrophic consequences for end users. This isn’t just about data breaches and reputational damage anymore – lives are quite literally on the line. The challenges are many: most vendors operate under the misapprehension that security-by-obscurity will do – and lobby for laws preventing the disclosure of vulnerabilities; a lack of security subject matter expertise creates major vulnerabilities; firmware can too easily be modified; and a lack of separation on the device opens up further avenues for attackers.

But there is something we as an industry can do about it – if we take a new hardware-led approach. This is all about creating an open security framework built on interoperable standards; one which will enable a “root of trust” thanks to secure boot capabilities, and restrict lateral movement with hardware-based virtualization.

Read more of this post

Securing The Internet of (broken) Things: A Matter of Life and Death

Securing the Internet of broken thingsIf you’re like me you’ll probably be getting desensitized by now to the ever-lengthening list of data breach headlines which have saturated the news for the past 24 months or more. Targeted attacks, Advanced Persistent Threats and the like usually end up in the capture of sensitive IP, customer information or trade secrets. The result? Economic damage, board level sackings and a heap of bad publicity for the breached organization. But that’s usually where it ends.

Read more of this post