SINGAPORE: Remember the time when StarHub’s broadband services suffered two outages, and the telco attributed them to cyberattacks on customers' compromised Web devices such as webcams and routers?
Or reports that hackers are spying on us through our baby monitors and home cameras?
Just this February, an Austrian cybersecurity company SEC Consult warned that the baby monitor Mi-Cam by Hong Kong-based company miSafes has vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to spy on the device including video footage. The device has more than 50,000 users.
These Internet security concerns are increasingly pushing themselves to the surface as more and more devices get connected to the Internet. And many of them are home appliances like fridges, washing machines and, yes, baby monitors that were not traditionally associated with being on the World Wide Web.
For manufacturers, security is a cost, said Mr Frederic Donck, regional bureau director for Europe at Internet Society.
If they do not have a compelling reason to factor it in their process - say, from regulation - then they would not, he added, shedding more light on the state of affairs.
“These are guys who don’t know about security issues,” Mr Donck said in an interview. “If I’m a small company making children’s toys in China, why would I care about securing how these are connected to the Internet?”
It is not just the makers of these Internet-enabled devices. More thought should also be paid to when consumers discard these appliances, Mr Donck pointed out.
“What happens to that toy or device that is discarded but continues to send data?” the Internet Society executive said. “The ability to switch off (a device’s Internet connectivity) should be enabled.”
Internet of Things (IoT) network operator, Unabiz, concurred, saying that security has to be addressed across the entire production cycle.
“As a matter of fact, security is most times an afterthought (when) it should be by design,” it said.
HACK ONE, EXPOSE ALL
If we see the issue of IoT security in the context of the wider cybersecurity ecosystem, then the problem becomes more acute.
Mr Francis Prince Thangasamy, vice president of IT Services and Managed Hosting for Asia Pacific at CenturyLink, said with Singapore being an important business and technology hub in the region, its systems are “ripe targets”.
Mr Thangasamy said: “Enterprises, services and networks are interconnected with thousands of companies and billions of devices worldwide.
A single successful cyberattack on any parts of the ecosystem will open up access to the entire network and sensitive data within and beyond the organisation or country, making it complex to manage and secure.”
Additionally, the country sits in a region that botnets - networks of compromised computer systems that can be remotely controlled by hackers to conduct cyberattacks - are rife.
The CenturyLink 2018 Threat Report showed that the top 5 Asia Pacific countries with bots are China, India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea - with China coming in second and India tenth in the global rankings.
SMART CITIES? SECURE THEM TOO
This issue of securing Internet-connected devices take on an added layer of importance and urgency when you consider how governments around the world are moving towards using these to enhance urban planning and management of their cities and countries.
Singapore, for example, has stated its intention to fit its streetlights with sensors that could potentially help with everything from monitoring the climate to implementing facial recognition tools to track errant motorists or flag when an accident has taken place.
This project is part of its Smart Nation Sensor Platform - one of five strategic national projects underpinning its Smart Nation ambitions.
Asked how the Government intends to secure these systems as they get rolled out, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) told Channel NewsAsia that agencies work closely to make sure that a device or project’s security design and architecture is resilient.
Elaborating, CSA said it actively advocates a “security-by-design” motto in project implementation and this involves a three-step process. The first is to conduct threat risk assessments to identify the device or network to protect and what are the potential consequences if security is compromised.
The second step is to review the system design and incorporating security considerations and requirements, while the last step is to carry out acceptance tests to make sure security measures are in place to address potential security risks.
“Subscribing to security-by-design reduces piecemeal implementation and the need for costly and often ineffective retrofitting,” the agency explained.
That said, CSA pointed out that there are currently no established IoT security standards.
This lack of standardisation is highlighted through the responses of two well-established consumer electronics giants and their stance in securing appliances.
Korean manufacturer LG, for instance, said that there are no specific guidelines, here or other markets, to securing its devices like smart TVs. It noted its smart TVs are certified by Underwriters Laboratories’ Cybersecurity Assurance Program as well as Common Criteria, an international standard for computer security.
Another major player, Samsung, pointed us to its blog that stated it has incorporated its mobile security technology Knox to its other connected devices like smart TVs and signages. “Knox technology includes a hardware security system and firmware updates to ensure devices are protected,” it wrote.
CERTIFICATION SCHEME FOR IOT DEVICES BEING EXPLORED
CSA, for its part, said Singapore “recognises that steps need to be taken” to ensure IoT products and services meet minimum standards of protection.
Already, at the national level, several technical references relating to this have been published. For instance, TR64 was recently developed and published by the IT Standards Committee, under the ambit of the Singapore Standards Council, and it provides guidelines to safeguard the confidentiality, integrity and availability of large-scale IoT systems.
It will also be exploring an evaluation and certification scheme to provide a security hygiene benchmark for IoT devices, the agency revealed.
This was a suggestion made by Internet Society’s Mr Donck too, who said IoT manufacturers need to be more accountable and invest in security.
The organisation, in its IoT security for policymakers paper published this April, recommended credible security certification schemes as a means to increase the incentives to invest in security.
“Certification, by which an organisation signals that a product, service or system has passed a set of quality or performance tests, can be a powerful and visible signal of compliance to know whether an IoT device uses best practices or standards,” it said.
Mr Donck suggested a certification scheme similar to what consumers see with washing machines, TVs and air-conditioners today: A visible indicator to show how water or power efficient the devices are, so consumers can make a more informed choice.
At the end of the day, having a secure IoT ecosystem benefits everyone - from the parent using a baby monitor to the government looking to tap on sensor data to better manage the country.
“Security is one of the key factors driving IoT adoption,” CSA said.
“Without the assurance of security, Singapore will not be able to ride on the IoT wave and benefit from its far-reaching possibilities.”