A Sign of the Times — Hacking Signs. Electronic Road-Sign Hackers Reveal a Downside to “the Internet of Things.”

Posted on June 6th, 2014 by Dan Rampe

Internet of Things

Remember the good old days when defacing road signs meant two barrels of double-ought buckshot in a deer-crossing sign on a rural dirt road? (Note: If it needs saying, we are indeed joking. Oh, you knew it all along.)

Anyway, the modern equivalent of the shotgun, but capable of being just as dangerous, is hacking into the software controlling an electronic road sign and changing the message — for instance from “DANGER BRIDGE OUT” to “HAPPY MOTORING. DON’T FORGET TO BUCKLE UP.”

The Internet of Things provides the ability to virtually control anything that connects to the Internet and offers up all kinds of possibilities for improving life from checking the security of the home while you’re on vacation to ensuring the dog isn’t eating the sofa while you’re at work. It also has downsides.

In his blog, KrebsonSeurity, Security Expert Brian Krebs, writes that authorities in several states have reported that hackers have broken into and defaced electronic highway road signs in several states. He quotes the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) as observing “changes to road signs create a public safety issue because instead of directing drivers through road hazards, they often result in drivers slowing or stopping to view the signs or take pictures.

“That same MS-ISAC notice…points out that these incidents appear to be encouraged by sloppy security on the part of those responsible for maintaining these signs.” You may read Krebs’ entire article by clicking on this link.

Andreas Baumhof, ThreatMetrix’s chief technology officer, maintains, “the Internet of Things is coming on faster than we can cope with it. Soon enough, we will be living in smart houses and all of our critical infrastructure will be managed online. This extensive interconnectivity poses a severe risk with cybercriminals having more and better opportunities to disrupt critical utilities such as our nation’s water supply and other vital infrastructure.”

As well as warning of the dangers presented by the Internet of Things, Baumhof talks about a positive solution. “Given today’s sophisticated cybercriminals [and hackers, organizations] must collaborate through a global network for a collective response to cybercrime.”

To protect themselves against this newest threat to security, organizations including state governments, financial services, e-commerce, payments, enterprises, social networks and others can turn to global data repositories such as ThreatMetrix’s Global Trust Intelligence Network, nicknamed The Network.

ThreatMetrix® builds trust on the Internet by offering market-leading advanced fraud prevention and frictionless context-based security solutions. These solutions authenticate consumer and workforce access to mission critical applications using real-time identity and access analytics that leverage the world’s largest trusted identity network.

ThreatMetrix secures enterprise applications against account takeover, payment fraud, fraudulent account registrations, malware, and data breaches. Underpinning the solution is the ThreatMetrix® Global Trust Intelligence Network, which analyzes over 500 million monthly transactions and protects more than 160 million active user accounts across 2,500 customers and 10,000 websites.

The ThreatMetrix solution is deployed across a variety of industries, including financial services, enterprise, e-commerce, payments, social networks, government and insurance.

For more information, visit www.threatmetrix.com or call 1-408-200-5755.

Join the cybersecurity conversation by visiting the ThreatMetrix blogFacebookLinkedIn and Twitter pages.

 

Have You Remembered to Friend Your Refrigerator? The Internet of Things Is Here and Growing Fast. But One Expert Warns It May Be “Patch as Patch Can’t.”

Posted on January 9th, 2014 by Dan Rampe

Internet

The Internet of Things or IoT is the name given to anything computers can remotely manage, alter and monitor. And, anything is the operative word. Fridges, air conditioners and other appliances, cars from accelerator to brakes, wearing apparel, inventories on store shelves, water and power utilities – virtually anything that connects to the Internet. And, of course, where you find the Internet, you also find politically motivated hackers to cyberthieves and terrorists.

Andreas Baumhof, chief technology officer, ThreatMetrix points out that, “The Internet of Things is coming on faster than we can cope with it. Soon enough, we will be living in smart houses and all of our critical infrastructure will be managed online. This extensive interconnectivity poses a severe risk with cybercriminals having more and better opportunities to disrupt critical utilities such as our nation’s water supply and other vital infrastructure.”

Echoing Andreas Baumhof’s concerns is Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Co3 Systems, a company that creates software to automate incident response. In a piece on wired.com, he explores why this brave new world of IoT comes with some nasty baggage and harkens back to the early days of the Internet when some kid whose girlfriend dumped him could take his revenge by making a bug that wreaked havoc across the planet.

We’re at a crisis point now with regard to the security of embedded systems, where computing is embedded into the hardware itself — as with the Internet of Things. These embedded computers are riddled with vulnerabilities, and there’s no good way to patch them.

It’s not unlike what happened in the mid-1990s, when the insecurity of personal computers was reaching crisis levels. Software and operating systems were riddled with security vulnerabilities, and there was no good way to patch them.

Companies were trying to keep vulnerabilities secret, and not releasing security updates quickly. And when updates were released, it was hard — if not impossible — to get users to install them. This has changed over the past twenty years, due to a combination of full disclosure — publishing vulnerabilities to force companies to issue patches quicker — and automatic updates: automating the process of installing updates on users’ computers. The results aren’t perfect, but they’re much better than ever before.

But this time the problem is much worse, because the world is different: All of these devices are connected to the Internet. The computers in our routers and modems are much more powerful than the PCs of the mid-1990s, and the Internet of Things will put computers into all sorts of consumer devices. The industries producing these devices are even less capable of fixing the problem than the PC and software industries were.

If we don’t solve this soon, we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers. At a recent Def Con, a researcher looked at thirty home routers and broke into half of them — including some of the most popular and common brands.

To understand the problem, you need to understand the embedded systems market.

Typically, these systems are powered by specialized computer chips made by companies such as Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Marvell. These chips are cheap, and the profit margins slim. Aside from price, the way the manufacturers differentiate themselves from each other is by features and bandwidth. They typically put a version of the Linux operating system onto the chips, as well as a bunch of other open-source and proprietary components and drivers. They do as little engineering as possible before shipping, and there’s little incentive to update their “board support package” until absolutely necessary.

The system manufacturers — usually original device manufacturers (ODMs) who often don’t get their brand name on the finished product — choose a chip based on price and features, and then build a router, server, or whatever. They don’t do a lot of engineering, either. The brand-name company on the box may add a user interface and maybe some new features, make sure everything works, and they’re done, too.

The problem with this process is that no one entity has any incentive, expertise, or even ability to patch the software once it’s shipped. The chip manufacturer is busy shipping the next version of the chip, and the ODM is busy upgrading its product to work with this next chip. Maintaining the older chips and products just isn’t a priority.

And the software is old, even when the device is new. For example, one survey of common home routers found that the software components were four to five years older than the device. The minimum age of the Linux operating system was four years. The minimum age of the Samba file system software: six years. They may have had all the security patches applied, but most likely not. No one has that job. Some of the components are so old that they’re no longer being patched. This patching is especially important because security vulnerabilities are found “more easily” as systems age.

To make matters worse, it’s often impossible to patch the software or upgrade the components to the latest version. Often, the complete source code isn’t available. Yes, they’ll have the source code to Linux and any other open-source components. But many of the device drivers and other components are just “binary blobs” — no source code at all. That’s the most pernicious part of the problem: No one can possibly patch code that’s just binary.

Even when a patch is possible, it’s rarely applied. Users usually have to manually download and install relevant patches. But since users never get alerted about security updates, and don’t have the expertise to manually administer these devices, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes the ISPs have the ability to remotely patch routers and modems, but this is also rare.

The result is hundreds of millions of devices that have been sitting on the Internet, unpatched and insecure, for the last five to ten years.

Hackers are starting to notice. Malware DNS Changer attacks home routers as well as computers. In Brazil, 4.5 million DSL routers were compromised for purposes of financial fraud. Last month, Symantec reported on a Linux worm that targets routers, cameras, and other embedded devices.

This is only the beginning. All it will take is some easy-to-use hacker tools for the script kiddies to get into the game.

And the Internet of Things will only make this problem worse, as the Internet — as well as our homes and bodies — becomes flooded with new embedded devices that will be equally poorly maintained and unpatchable. But routers and modems pose a particular problem, because they’re: (1) between users and the Internet, so turning them off is increasingly not an option; (2) more powerful and more general in function than other embedded devices; (3) the one 24/7 computing device in the house, and are a natural place for lots of new features.

We were here before with personal computers, and we fixed the problem. But disclosing vulnerabilities in an effort to force vendors to fix the problem won’t work the same way as with embedded systems. The last time, the problem was computers, ones mostly not connected to the Internet, and slow-spreading viruses. The scale is different today: more devices, more vulnerability, viruses spreading faster on the Internet, and less technical expertise on both the vendor and the user sides. Plus vulnerabilities that are impossible to patch.

Combine full function with lack of updates, add in a pernicious market dynamic that has inhibited updates and prevented anyone else from updating, and we have an incipient disaster in front of us. It’s just a matter of when.

We simply have to fix this. We have to put pressure on embedded system vendors to design their systems better. We need open-source driver software — no more binary blobs! — so third-party vendors and ISPs can provide security tools and software updates for as long as the device is in use. We need automatic update mechanisms to ensure they get installed.

The economic incentives point to large ISPs as the driver for change. Whether they’re to blame or not, the ISPs are the ones who get the service calls for crashes. They often have to send users new hardware because it’s the only way to update a router or modem, and that can easily cost a year’s worth of profit from that customer. This problem is only going to get worse, and more expensive. Paying the cost up front for better embedded systems is much cheaper than paying the costs of the resultant security disasters.

Adding a positive note, Baumhof believes that “given today’s sophisticated cybercriminals…businesses must collaborate through a global network for a collective response to cybercrime.”

To present a united front, industries – including financial services, e-commerce, payments, enterprises, social networks and others can turn to global data repositories such as ThreatMetrix’s™ Global Trust Intelligence Network, nicknamed The Network.

ThreatMetrix secures Web transactions against account takeoverpayment fraudidentity spoofing, malware, and data breaches. The ThreatMetrix Global Trust Intelligence Network, which analyzes 500 million monthly transactions, provides context-based authentication and Web fraud prevention to help companies accelerate revenue, reduce costs and eliminate friction. ThreatMetrix protects more than 1,900 customers and 9,000 websites across a variety of industries, including financial servicesenterprisee-commerce, payments, social networks, government, and insurance. For more information, visit www.threatmetrix.com or call 1-408-200-5755.

Join the cybersecurity conversation by visiting the ThreatMetrix blogFacebookLinkedIn and Twitter pages.

 

Brace Yourself. 2014 Brings a Whole New World of Cyberthreats: Here Are ThreatMetrix’s New Year Predictions.

Posted on December 18th, 2013 by Dan Rampe

Predictions

Everybody looks forward to the new year. Naturally “everybody” includes the bad guys who never stop trying to find new ways to compromise the nation’s critical infrastructure and the Internet of Things (IoT). If you’re not familiar with IoT, it’s a term that was coined to describe objects (smart cars and smart houses) or even people (Smart people? Anyway, people with tracking or medical chips implanted under the skin) that can be managed, altered and monitored remotely by computer.

Inventory on store shelves, appliances of all kinds, water and power utilities — all are connected online and can be targets of bad guys of every kind and variety. To stop these cybercriminals, terrorists and old-fashioned mischief-making hackers, in the past year alone, venture capital funding has poured $1.4 billion into 239 cybersecurity deals.

“The Internet of Things is coming on faster than we can cope with – soon enough, we will be living in smart houses and all of our critical infrastructure will be managed online,” said Andreas Baumhof, chief technology officer, ThreatMetrix. “This extensive interconnectivity poses a severe risk for cybercriminals to have a detrimental impact on such critical utilities as our nation’s water supply in 2014 and beyond.”

Now ThreatMetrix predicts the top cybercrime trends and consumers should look out for in 2014:

The Internet of Things will lead to all appliances and operations eventually connecting to the Internet. While still in early stages, as soon as next year, smart refrigerators, locks and thermostats will move into the mainstream. As with any online activity, the Internet of Things offers cybercriminals the opportunity to compromise this connectivity and steal personal information or cripple resources.

Critical infrastructure risks have recently become so severe that President Obama signed an Executive Order on Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. Water, power and other critical utilities are gradually moving online and this opens the door for cybercriminals – either individuals or nation-states to wage a new form of warfare. Critical infrastructure already faces cyberattacks daily – and this is certain to increase in 2014.

Data privacy is and will continue to be a significant concern both for individuals and businesses, especially given the recent revelation that the National Security Administration’s Prism program spied on data from several top technology companies. Because of this, trust in the privacy and security of personal information online has taken a major hit.

Alternative payments are being used more and more, especially with the massive growth of bitcoins, Facebook credits, gift cards and more. In 2014 and beyond, more forms of alternative payments are sure to emerge and unregulated payments are at risk for malware and money laundering.

Mobile transactions are gaining market share and are expected to grow by 40 percent to $325 billion in 2014. Since mobile is an emerging marketplace, the good and bad actors are on a level playing field. Businesses are still figuring out the best ways to protect mobile devices and transactions while cybercriminals are in the early stages of determining strategies to compromise mobile transactions.

Online transactions will continue to be targeted and in 2014 attacks will become more widespread as sophisticated malware that was previously developed for attacking high security banking sites will be used to attack online businesses across industries – many of which are not as well prepared to prevent cybercrime as online banks.

“Current and emerging cybercrime threats will continue to compromise businesses and consumers on a global level in 2014,” said Baumhof. “To address and prevent these threats, continued innovation in the security market is crucial. Simple anti-virus companies and addressing fraud and security separately is no longer effective given today’s sophisticated cybercriminals. Rather, businesses must collaborate through a global network for a collective response to cybercrime.”

To address cybercrime across industries – including financial services, e-commerce, payments, enterprises, social networks et al. – more and more companies are turning to global data repositories like the ThreatMetrix™ Global Trust Intelligence Network (The Network). Differentiating between authentic and suspicious mobile transactions and online activity, The Network is a comprehensive global repository of fraud data that protects tens of millions of users every day from mobile threats through the use of real-time analytics to evaluate the validity of logins, payments, new account registrations and remote access attempts. By collaborating globally via a shared network, businesses are able to fight cybercrime more effectively.

ThreatMetrix secures Web transactions against account takeoverpayment fraudidentity spoofing, malware, and data breaches. The ThreatMetrix Global Trust Intelligence Network, which analyzes 500 million monthly transactions, provides context-based authentication and Web fraud prevention to help companies accelerate revenue, reduce costs and eliminate friction. ThreatMetrix protects more than 1,900 customers and 9,000 websites across a variety of industries, including financial servicesenterprisee-commerce, payments, social networks, government, and insurance. For more information, visit www.threatmetrix.com or call 1-408-200-5755.

Join the cybersecurity conversation by visiting the ThreatMetrix blogFacebookLinkedIn and Twitter pages.