National Intelligence Chief Says Smart Device Security Must Improve

Too many of these devices come from unregulated, low-cost overseas manufacturers that can skimp on security to keep prices competitive.

by Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald / May 15, 2017
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(TNS) -- The director of intelligence is warning that the “Internet of Things” gives cyber criminals new ways to use our connectivity against us.

As consumers demand further integration of these devices, the risk increases — unless we demand stricter security standards by manufacturers.

In an annual assessment delivered to a Senate subcommittee yesterday, the increasing prevalence of devices that affect every aspect of our lives is named as one of a growing number of grave threats to “public health, safety and property.”

“Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and advance their own, and despite improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks and systems will be at risk for years,” Daniel R. Coats, director of national intelligence, said in written remarks to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Cyber threats are already challenging public trust and confidence in global institutions, governance, and norms while imposing costs on the U.S. and global economies.”

The Internet of Things is the idea that our everyday devices are being wired to the web. It’s an umbrella term for the proliferation of smart home devices, appliances, self-driving cars, wearable fitness trackers and implantable medical devices that transmit and receive data.

Too many of these devices come from unregulated, low-cost overseas manufacturers that can skimp on security to keep prices competitive. And many do not come with a way to be patched — updated over the air — which our federal regulators must demand.

Coats’ report did not broach the topic of overseas manufacturers, but he did note these types of devices have already enabled unspecified denial-of-service attacks. It’s unclear how many attacks have already occurred, and Coats didn’t give exact figures other than to say “we assess they will continue.”

“In the future, state and non-state actors will likely use (Internet of Things) devices to support intelligence operations or domestic security or to access or attack targeted computer networks,” he said.

Ironically, it’s the fact that some of our devices are new and still working out the kinks that adds a layer of protection.

For instance, a smart door lock may be connected to your phone via Bluetooth, but not the internet, making it harder to hack. In a few years, almost all those locks will connect to the internet, which is more accessible to hackers.

But as consumers demand more streamlined tech ecosystems that will be wired directly to the web, it’s critical that we also demand stricter standards of security. Our enemies are paying close attention, according to Coats, exemplified by Russia, which he called a “full scope cyber actor that will remain a major threat to the U.S. Government.”

This “aggressiveness was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. elections,” Coats said.

And the Internet of Things guarantees that we’ll reach a crisis point in the New Cold War unless we take swift action.

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.