Digital Minister Margot James has proposed the introduction of legislation that could make internet-connected gadgets less vulnerable to attacks by hackers.
What’s The Problem?
Gartner predicts that there will be 14.2 billion ‘smart’, internet-connected devices in use worldwide by the end of 2019. These devices include connected TVs, smart speakers and home appliances. In business settings, IoT devices can include elevators, doors, or whole heating and fire safety systems in office buildings.
The main security issue of many of these devices is that they have pre-set, default unchangeable passwords, and once these passwords have been discovered by cybercriminals the IoT devices can be hacked in order to steal personal data, spy on users or remotely take control of devices in order to misuse them.
Also, IoT devices are deployed in many systems that link to and are supplied by major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large-scale attack on these IoT systems could affect the economy.
The proposed new law to make IoT devices more secure, put forward by Digital Minister Margot James, would do two main things:
- Force manufacturers to ensure that IoT devices come with unique passwords.
- Introduce a new labelling system that tells customers how secure an IOT product is.
The idea is that products will have to satisfy certain requirements in order to get a label, such as:
- Coming with a unique password by default.
- Stating for how long security updates would be made available for the device.
- Giving details of a public point of contact to whom cyber-security vulnerabilities may be disclosed.
Not Easy To Make IoT Devices Less Vulnerable
Even though legislation could put pressure on manufacturers to try harder to make IoT devices more secure, technical experts and commentators have pointed out that it is not easy for manufacturers to make internet-enabled/smart devices IoT devices secure because:
Adding security to household internet-enabled ‘commodity’ items costs money. This would have to be passed on to the customer in higher prices, but this would mean that the price would not be competitive. Therefore, it may be that security is being sacrificed to keep costs down – sell now and worry about security later.
Even if there is a security problem in a device, the firmware (the device’s software) is not always easy to update. There are also costs involved in doing so which manufacturers of lower-end devices may not be willing to incur.
With devices which are typically infrequent and long-lasting purchases e.g. white goods, we tend to keep them until they stop working, and we are unlikely to replace them because they have a security vulnerability that is not fully understood. As such these devices are likely to remain available to be used by cybercriminals for a long time.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Introducing legislation that only requires manufacturers to make relatively simple changes to make sure that smart devices come with unique passwords and are adequately labelled with safety and contact information sounds as though it shouldn’t be too costly or difficult. The pressure of having, by law, to display a label that indicates how safe the item is could provide that extra motivation for manufacturers to make the changes and could be very helpful for security-conscious consumers.
The motivation for manufacturers to make the changes to the IoT devices will be even greater when faced with the prospect of retailers eventually being barred from selling products that don’t have a label, as is the plan with this proposed legislation.
The hope from cybersecurity experts and commentators is that the proposal isn’t watered-down before it becomes law.