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Another ‘Victory’ for the Internet of Things

Researchers have found, once again, that sensitive systems have been placed on the Internet without even the most basic of security precautions. The result?

Analyzing a database of a year’s worth of Internet scan results [H.D. Moore]’s assembled known as Critical.io, as well as other data from the 2012 Internet Census, Moore discovered that thousands of devices had no authentication, weak or no encryption, default passwords, or had no automatic “log-off” functionality, leaving them pre-authenticated and ready to access. Although he was careful not to actually tamper with any of the systems he connected to, Moore says he could have in some cases switched off the ability to monitor traffic lights, disabled trucking companies’ gas pumps or faked credentials to get free fuel, sent fake alerts over public safety system alert systems, and changed environmental settings in buildings to burn out equipment or turn off refrigeration, leaving food stores to rot.

Needless to say, Moore’s findings are telling insofar as they reveal that engineers responsible for maintaining our infrastructures are often unable to secure those infrastructures from third-parties. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that a hostile third-party has significantly taken advantage of poorly-secured and Internet-connected equipment, but it’s really only a matter until someone does attack this infrastructure to advance their own interests, or simply to reap the lulz.

Findings like Moore’s are only going to be more commonly produced as more and more systems are integrated with the Internet as part of the ‘Internet of Things’. It remains to be seen whether vulnerabilities will routinely be promptly resolved, especially with legacy equipment that enjoys significant sunk costs and limited capital for ongoing maintenance. Given the cascading nature of failures in an interconnected and digitized world, failing to secure our infrastructure means that along with natural disasters we may get to ‘enjoy’ cyber disasters that are both harder to positively identify or subsequently remedy when/if appropriately identified.