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Government has new cybersecurity problem

Government has new cybersecurity problem
August 01
15:50 2017

When hackers took aim at the internet’s backbone last year, impeding access to websites like Twitter and Spotify, they did so by weaponizing the Internet of Things — a catch-all category of web-connected devices that includes fitness trackers and smart thermostats.

The resulting denial-of-service attack was limited and short-lived, in the end, but cybersecurity fears about IoT remain prevalent — and a group of lawmakers in Congress is now getting to work to ensure the U.S. government raises its own digital defenses in response.

That’s the aim of a new bill out today by Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat in Virginia, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado. Their measure — called the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 — is an attempt to force companies that sell wearables, sensors and other web-connected tools to federal agencies to adhere to some new security standards.

For example, lawmakers’ new proposal would put into law a requirement that vendors ensure the small, often screenless devices sold to the U.S.
government can be patched with security updates. (It sounds like a given, but it’s not.) It also prohibits those tech companies from hard-coding passwords into the firmware of the tools they offer the feds.

The passwords, generally kept hidden from users, exist to help manufacturers access the guts of those tools, but hackers have easily exploited them. Using malicious software called Mirai, attackers previously have managed to turn webcams and other devices into a formidable botnet — the likes of which caused the widespread October outage.

With cybersecurity, Warner told Recode, “You’ve got to constantly be upgrading your game. And what we’re saying with Internet of Things devices is, if you’ve got hard-coded passwords or they’re not able to be patched, because they’re cheaper or smaller devices, that can’t be standard protocol.”
“If we turn around and there are 20 billion devices in a couple years, and the federal has ‘x’ million of these devices, and they all have these characteristics,” he continued, “then, you know, I think we’re going to make a big mistake.”

On the consumer side, at least, the Internet of Things is a fast-expanding, if nebulous, market category. An estimate by IDC issued in June found that spending around the world could reach as high as $1.4 trillion by 2021.

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