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Five ways attackers can create havoc in smart homes

23 Aug 2019
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New research from security firm Trend Micro suggests that some devices found in the average home are more of a risk than others when it comes to cyber attacks, there are still plenty of ways for attackers to create havoc.

According to Trend Micro’s IoT Device Security: Locking Out Risks and Threats to Smart Homes report, the number of smart home devices is predicted to increase globally by almost 17% every year until 2023.

As homes become more connected, it makes sense to understand what threats these connections may bring, and how to prevent them from happening.

But why would attackers want to target smart home devices? The research suggests motives such as burglaries, cyber stalking, botnet creation, cryptocurrency mining hubs, theft of personal information or financial information – the list is broad and almost endless.

Here are five findings from the research:

1.    Smart locks unlock the house for intruders to easily enter; lock out users or residents and block the house remotely, or change the lock password remotely

2.    Smartwatches spoof the user’s smartphone from the smartwatch; steal the user’s health data; and sends fake text messages from the smartwatch

3.    Smart toys record the voices of the toys players and leak the recordings online, or use the toy to gain access to the home network

4.    Smart vacuums track the home layout or monitor room activities remotely which can lead to planning further activities and movement

5.    Home gateways can connect to a fake or malicious website to download malware, steal personal information, or control connected devices remotely.

“Individually many of the attacks mentioned above can be overlooked as harmless by many users. However, once a device or system has been compromised, hackers can strategise and formulate a combination of actions to escalate their attacks in hopes of exacting direr consequences,” the report says.

Take the humble connected robot vacuum cleaner for example.

“Thinking that the device is connected only to the home network, the owner of the smart home does not fear exposure through the smart robot vacuum cleaner. In truth, however, the vacuum’s Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) function automatically connects to the home router, thereby exposing it to the internet.” 

“With no security measures in place against such an exposure, attackers are free to compromise the device as part of their campaign. Once the vacuum is compromised, at the outset the hackers use the device to familiarise themselves with the layout of the house, and then they move laterally to compromise other devices in the network. Using a combination of different possible actions and compromised devices inside the home, the hackers can strategise and plan a number of different attacks.”

So what can users do about it? The report suggests the following actions:

1. Patch vulnerabilities. Timely patches and firmware updates are two initial actions users can take, since updates are usually related to security issues. Users can opt to enable the auto-update feature on supported devices to ensure that updates are applied as soon as they become available. 

2. Change default settings and passwords. When users go through the settings of their devices one by one, they can take the opportunity to make necessary modifications to make the devices more secure. They should change default or easy-to-guess passwords immediately, and use unique and strong passwords for multiple accounts. In setting up the devices, users should avoid using personally identifiable information, especially with the router settings. 

3. Isolate devices. Users should also consider implementing network segmentation for certain devices and isolating them from the entire home network. This is especially needed for vulnerable devices that cannot be patched and yet cannot be replaced or removed by users.