The risks associated with Internet of Things

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Have you ever stopped to wonder what the next five years will be like? Well, I have and sometimes it is quite scary especially for a rapidly evolving country like Nigeria where innovation and adoption seem to be moving faster than the necessary laws and policies.

More Nigerians, businesses and services are going digital, generating tonnes of various types of data and it appears we are simply not prepared for what may happen.

The President of Cyber Security Experts Association of Nigeria, Remi Afon, informed me while chatting on Tech Trends that a number of banks and telcos have experienced breaches and data stolen from them and because there is no law mandating them to make these breaches public; they simply carry on like nothing happened.

This is why, according to him, his association is pushing for the enactment of a data protection law that will complement the cybercrime law. In his words, “The law will force organisations to be more responsible in protecting other people’s data under their custody and the ability to know and inform the public whenever there is a breach.”

Data privacy and protection is something we must take seriously as the Internet of Things comes closer to us in Nigeria and the rest of Africa because with the number of smart devices getting connected, generating quantum of data from different geo-graphics, online security experts say the possibilities of hacks and breaches are not farfetched.

Already, billions of smart devices are connected at the moment and more will be connected in the future. As already stated, the more connected these smart devices are, the more vulnerable and susceptible to hacking they become.

According to a study carried out by Hewlett Packard, about three-quarters of all Internet of Things devices are susceptible to getting hacked or compromised. A study of 10 common smart devices, which included thermostats, smart TVs and webcams, were studied.

“Each device had approximately 25 vulnerabilities”, the study claimed. For instance, connected printers, video conferencing systems, etc are all easy IoT-connected targets that are susceptible to being hacked by cyber criminals. They do this, mostly by snooping on the targeted organisation through listening into calls or using the unsecured systems to reach other parts of the network and make off with private information.

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It does not take up to five minutes to hack into an internet-connected device that lacks the most basic cyber security protocols. The absence of these protocols only paves the way for cyber attackers to hack data, spy on confidential internal activities, sometimes causing physical damages.

“Late last year, we were hearing a lot about Internet of Things, and a bit about IoT security, but have not seen anything that focused on the complete picture of IoT security. So, we decided to start the OWASP [Open Web Application Security Project] Internet of Things Top 10 Project, which aims to educate on the main facets of Internet of Things security that people should be concerned with,” the statement from HP concluded.

Researchers warned that Internet of Things including IP connected security systems, connected climate control and energy metres, smart video conferencing systems, connected printers, VoIP phones, smart fridges, and even smart light bulbs — pose an inherent risk to the security of organisations that deploy them.

Matthew Prince, the Co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare, said, “Anyone hooking up a poorly secured IP device to the internet can expect to see that gizmo hacked within a week, if not much sooner.”

There are some level of measures that could be applied to avoid the vulnerability of connected devices. Researchers say there are basic securities in place in modern devices that screen out the most obvious attacks. Getting phished, if you will, is more of a problem where you are tricked in to surrendering your password or username to a common service. If you plug in your webcam into your router or to your Wi-Fi, you are relatively safe.

Eric Vyncke, a distinguished engineer with Cisco, described the risks and proffered some solutions in a presentation at a RSA Security Conference. Vyncke postulated that worms, Trojans, and botnets that were once limited to personal computers and mobile devices can now infect a television set or home security systems too.

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IoT gives professional hackers and malware developers access to intellectual property and an ability to spy on, or sabotage manufacturing facilities and critical infrastructure systems like the power grid, oil pipelines, nuclear power plants, and railway systems.

“On a more personal level, a criminal who can hack your smart metering utility system can identify when usage drops and assume that means nobody is home,” Vyncke concluded.

If you recall, I have always stressed the need to begin to raise our own cyber warriors, or army, if you like, to be trained and mandated to protect us in the event of a massive cyber-attack. As utopian as this may appear, the real concern is fighting organised cybercrime and terrorism.

In the words of Chris Uwaje, Director General, Delta State Innovation Hub, “The wars of the future will be fought in the cyberspace” and some of the recent happenings in the world have proved him right. IoT devices may very well form part of the targets should such a war ever happen in our lifetime.

This piece is not necessarily to generate fear but to paint the true picture of what is possible in this hyper-connected world of ours and also to get our nation as well as policy makers fully prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly sides of IoT.

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