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July 6, 2018


Attack of the Smart Refrigerator

We've all heard about refrigerators that automatically order groceries when they sense the current supply is running low or out. These smart refrigerators are what people usually point to when giving an example of an "internet-of-things" (IoT) device. Briefly, an IoT device is a physical device connected to the internet wirelessly that transmits data, sometimes without direct human interaction. I suspect most of you have at least one of these devices already operating in your home or office, whether it's a wireless router, baby monitor, or voice-activated assistant or "smart" lights, thermostats, security systems, or TVs.

Experts are forecasting that IoT device manufacturing will be one of the fastest growing industries over the next decade. Gartner estimates there were more than 8 billion connected IoT devices globally in 2017, with about $2 trillion going toward IoT endpoints and services. In 2020, the number of these devices will increase to more than 20 billion. But what security are manufacturers building into these devices to prevent monitoring or outside manipulation? What prevents someone from hacking into your security system and monitoring the patterns of your house or office or turning on your interior security cameras and invading your privacy? For those devices that can generate financial transactions, what authentication processes will ensure that transactions are legitimate? It's one kind of mistake to order an unneeded gallon of milk, but another one entirely to use that connection to access a home computer to monitor one's online banking transaction activity and capture log-on credentials.

As one would probably suspect, there is no simple or consistent answer to these security questions, but the overall track record of device security has not been a great one. There have been major DDOS attacks against websites using botnets composed of millions of IoT devices. Ransomware attacks have been made against consumers' home security systems and thermostats, forcing consumers to pay the extortionist to get their systems working again.

Some of the high-end devices such as the driverless cars and medical devices have been designed with security controls at the forefront, but most other manufacturers have given little thought to the criminal's ability to use a device to access and control other devices running on the same network. Adding to the problem is that many of these devices do not get software updates, including security patches.

With cybersecurity issues grabbing so many headlines, people are paying more and more attention to the role and impact of IoT devices. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has begun efforts to develop security standards for cryptology that can operate within IoT devices. However, NIST estimates it will take two to four years to get the standard out.

In the meantime, the Department of Justice has some recommendations for securing IoT devices, including:

  • Research your device to determine security features. Does it have a changeable password? Does the manufacturer deliver security updates?
  • After you purchase a device and before you install it, download security updates and reset any default passwords.
  • If automatic updates are not provided to registered users, check at least monthly to determine if there are updates and download only from reputable sites.
  • Protect your routers and home Wi-Fi networks with firewalls, strong passwords, and security keys.

I see IoT device security as an issue that will continue to grow in importance. In a future post, I will discuss the privacy issues that IoT devices could create.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 6, 2018 in consumer fraud , cybercrime , cybersecurity , fraud , identity theft , innovation , online banking fraud , privacy | Permalink

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