Business Today

Enemy At The Gates

As cyber attacks become more intrusive and intense, owners of IoT devices and connected homes must step up their digital defence.
Venkat Krishnapur   New Delhi     Print Edition: April 7, 2019
Enemy At The Gates
Illustration by Ajay Thakuri

American drama thriller Mr. Robot, in which the protagonist is a cybersecurity engineer and hacker, has rather terrifyingly shown us what it is like to lose control of your smart home. By turning technology against you, the episode titled Smart Home Hack depicts everything which can go wrong with a connected home - a linked thermostat that fails, a shower that gushes boiling water and alarm bells which seem to have a mind of their own. Only a decade ago, the idea of controlling your home's refrigerators, cameras, cars, networking devices, and security and entertainment systems remotely, via smartphones, would have been considered sci-fi stuff. Fast forward to 2019 and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) have created a connected ecosystem that enables easy access to consumer devices through a wireless network.

India is not far behind when it comes to smart living. In fact, some experts think that by 2025, average Indian households could be connected to some extent as electricity and data are now easily accessible. However, Indian users are yet to fully adopt IoT devices and solutions due to prevalent privacy and security concerns. No one is really sure whether our 'connected' lifestyle is safe from cybersabotage.

Threats and Solutions

In October 2016, a malware called Mirai created a botnet that triggered a large-scale DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, rendering the majority of the East Coast (in the US) inaccessible to Internet services and hijacking a variety of smart devices. This is only a small glimpse into the damage cybercriminals can inflict upon a connected network. Researchers have discovered avenues to embed commands into voice-controlled connected devices via spoken text or music recordings to deliver instructions ranging from unlocking doors to transferring money electronically. With increased awareness around emerging cyberthreats such as ransomware, both end users and businesses are looking for sophisticated and evolved security solutions to safeguard their data. As a result, cybercriminals are altering their modus operandi and targeting high net-worth individuals, businesses and smart home devices to carry out high-profile cyberattacks.

Luckily, some simple measures, taken during the installation of any smart device, can go a long way in protecting smart homes against cybercrimes. Of course, with so many cool products available in the market, it is easy to be impulsive and skip your research. But before making a purchase, go through the reviews of the product's security features (or lack, thereof).

Also, hackers are usually aware of factory default passwords which could unlock IoT devices. So, take the time to go to product settings and create a unique, strong password. Consider getting an extra security layer by investing in software programmes which will secure your digital life, no matter what the device is. Manufacturers, too, regularly release software updates to address emerging threats and protect customers against vulnerabilities. Therefore, always ensure that you have the latest and safest upgrades. One can also look at seamless and easy-to-use security solutions which protect against malicious websites, provide parental controls and safeguard devices connected to the home network (including IoT devices). Most importantly, opt for home routers with in-built security platforms. McAfee's Secure Home Platform is a good example of how robust security features are integrated with routers, thereby protecting all connected devices on home networks.

Undoubtedly, a connected life is a good life. The only drawback: Cybercriminals are fully aware of our growing dependence on and affection for our devices. They spend a lot of their time looking for vulnerabilities and can gain access to private and financial data through cracks in our networks. With the growing amount of personal data flowing to and from connected home devices, it is imperative to ensure security measures for all of them. Devices like game consoles, home security systems, baby monitors and other IoT gadgets must be secured so that they do not fall prey to cybercriminals.

As we move towards creating a smarter world, it is important to create a strong defence mechanism to guard all entry points. And consumers must always implement the first line of defence in the form of cybersecurity software and secure the entry gates to protect connected homes from getting breached.

The writer is Vice President of Engineering and Managing Director at McAfee India

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