Published on January 19th, 2014 | by The GC Team1
Global cyber attack involving conventional household “smart” appliances uncovered
A global cyber attack involving more than 750,000 malicious email communications coming from more than 100,000 everyday consumer gadgets, such as home-networking routers, connected multi-media centres, televisions and at least one refrigerator, has been discovered by security firm Proofpoint.
The company said it believed this may be the first proven Internet of Things-based cyber attack involving conventional household “smart” appliances.
Just as personal computers can be unknowingly compromised to form robot-like “botnets” that can be used to launch large-scale cyber attacks, Proofpoint’s findings showed that cyber criminals have begun to commandeer home routers, smart appliances and other components of the Internet of Things, transforming them into “thingbots” to carry out the same type of malicious activity.
The attack that Proofpoint observed and profiled occurred between 23 December 2013 and 6 January 2014 and featured waves of malicious email, typically sent in bursts of 100,000 three times per day, targeting enterprises and individuals worldwide.
More than 25% of the volume was sent by items that were not conventional laptops, desktop computers or mobile devices; instead, the emails were sent by everyday electronic household gadgets.
“Bot-nets are already a major security concern and the emergence of thingbots may make the situation much worse” said David Knight, General Manager of Proofpoint’s Information Security division.
“Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur.”
Proofpoint said that while IT experts have long predicted security risks associated with the rapidly proliferating Internet of Things, this is the first time the industry has reported actual proof of such a cyber attack involving common appliances, but it will likely not be the last attack.
The proliferation of “smart” home appliances was evidenced at International CES this month, where a number of manufacturers such as Samsung displayed various ranges.
The Internet of Things includes every device that is connected to the internet – from home automation products including smart thermostats, security cameras, refrigerators, microwaves, home entertainment devices such as TVs and gaming consoles, to industrial machinery and smart retail shelves that know when they need replenishing.
Michael Osterman, principal analyst at Osterman Research, said: “The Internet of Things holds great promise for enabling control of all of the gadgets that we use on a daily basis. It also holds great promise for cyber criminals who can use our homes’ routers, televisions, refrigerators and other Internet-connected devices to launch large and distributed attacks.
“Internet-enabled devices represent an enormous threat because they are easy to penetrate; consumers have little incentive to make them more secure; the rapidly growing number of devices can send malicious content almost undetected; few vendors are taking steps to protect against this threat, and the existing security model simply won’t work to solve the problem.”