October 21st, 2016. Take note of the date. Something extraordinary and scary happened.
The Internet of Things turned nasty. Hackers used Internet-connected devices, like CCTV devices and printers to take down sites like Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit. First off it’s extraordinary they were able to get my printer to work. That thing has a mind of its own.
The attack was against a company called Dyn, which directs users to sites. It affected users in the densely populated east coast of the US, all the way through the Midwest, parts of the west coast, and to a lesser extent parts of Europe. I was in the middle of working on a recipe in my kitchen and the Internet just disappeared. Totally ruined my frittata. But there are serious issues here.
Like power stations. And hospitals.
And nuclear missiles.
There’s an abiding suspicion a state actor is behind it. And the news is filled with stories of the US launching retaliatory strikes against Russia for messing with the election. Maybe Putin doesn't like the threat. (He doesn't strike me as a live-and-let-live guy.)
There’s this lingering shadow--this is just beginning.
Which got me thinking about my record collection.
It doesn’t exist anymore.
I don’t have any drawers filled with snapshots either.
Or even many bookshelves.
Books and albums used to be a big part of home decorating. Now I mainly live in a digital monastery. Minimalist decor. No large sprawling media center. Just a big screen on the wall connected to the Big Internet. There’s an abiding vulnerability there.
We built this grand digital city, but did we build it on sand? How much there is there? It can disappear in a nanosecond. The Internet of Things, the ultimate realization of the ultimate virtual dream, is making it worse.
Security experts have been sending up alarms about the Internet of Things for quite some time. Over a year ago Jon Bruner, editor-at-large, O’Reilly Media said this:
There is an enormous security risk in IoT. IoT can scale up the attack surface for any kind of a cyberattack. The risk is going to be a distributed attack on a lot of things. We haven’t seen consumer products connected to the Internet in very wide scale yet, but there’s certainly a risk that once everyone has a connected door lock or a connected car, that that will present a bad security situation.
Bruner comes off like Virtual Merlin after Friday’s massive cyber-attack. Your little home router turned into an ICBM.
So is there anything you can do to stop your webcam being co-opted as an element of the next cyber Death Star launch?
Not easy. Here are three ideas.
1. Turn off and on your smart devices. Sometimes that's enough to debug the hidden code waiting for visiting attack bots.
2. Change default passwords on your devices - even if it is not on the list of hijacked devices, many share the same chips and code.
3. Update device software. Hardware makers are reacting to hacking issues. Updates will begin to plug loopholes hackers exploit.
So the next time SMITE on Steam is hanging you out to dry with severe latency problems, beware, it may be a sign your smart sprinkler is being activated by Sergio in Vladstock to open values on your local municipal dam.