2017 Cyber Forecast: The IoT Problem is Going to Get Worse

The new year is underway, and one of the biggest causes of concern carrying over into 2017 is the threat posed by the growing number of compromised Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. As I stated in my previous cyber forecast blog on extortion, I prefer to base my “predictions” around actual intelligence and verifiable data. IoT-related security threats have been talked about for the past few years, but they have been relegated to the periphery of the cybercrime conversation due to the fact there wasn’t much threat data around real-world attacks. However, the second half of 2016 saw those concerns move front-and-center due to a series of incidents tied to the Mirai botnet:

  • In September, both KrebsOnSecurity and French hosting provider OVH were hit with massive DDoS attacks, reportedly hitting 620 Gbps attack and 1 Tbps in size.
  • Those attacks were quickly tied the Mirai botnet, the source code of which was subsequently released by a user on Hackforums.
  • A few weeks after the source code went public, DNS provider Dyn was hit with what appears to have been an even larger DDoS attack – causing major sites such as Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, Spotify and others to be disrupted across the U.S. and Europe.

Those attacks will certainly lead to increased scrutiny within the IoT marketplace both now and in the future, but in the meantime cybercriminals are focusing their attention on finding new ways to leverage the numerous vulnerable IoT devices for their own malicious purposes. The past few months have seen various hacking groups fighting to take control over their share of those compromised devices, as well as companies such as Deutsche Telekom and others suffering outages as those groups tried to expand their botnets by attempting to infect customers’ routers with Mirai. One group has even been observed selling IoT-powered DDoS services that claim to provide as much as 700 Gbps in traffic.

All of that activity has led to one of the clearest trends in SurfWatch Labs’ data over the past few months: an enormous rise in threat intelligence surrounding the “service interruption” category.

serviceinterruption_cfs
This chart from SurfWatch Labs’ 2016 Cyber Threat Trends Report shows a sharp increase in the amount of threat intelligence related to the service interruption category in Q4 2016.

“Over the past two years, the ‘service interruption’ tag has typically appeared in approximately 16% of the negative CyberFacts collected by SurfWatch Labs,” SurfWatch Labs noted in its annual cyber trends report, Rise of IoT Botnets Showcases Cybercriminals’ Ability to Find New Avenues of Attack. “However, that number jumped to more than 42% over the last half of the year due to growing concern around IoT-powered botnets such as Mirai.”

The problem of botnets powered by compromised IoT devices goes beyond just service interruption. It reflects many of the larger cybersecurity issues facing organizations in 2017:

  • an expanding number of vulnerable devices
  • the problem of default or easy-to-guess credentials
  • the difficulty of identifying vulnerabilities and patching them in a timely manner
  • questions of who along the supply chain is responsible for security
  • and issues outside your organization’s direct control that impact your cyber risk

Compromised IoT devices are a perfect example of the interconnectedness of cybercrime and how the poor security of one component by one manufacturer can led to hundreds of thousands of devices being vulnerable.

The sudden surge in concern around IoT devices reminds me of similar cyber risk discussions that have occurred around ICS/SCADA over the last few years. In both cases, the devices were often designed without cybersecurity in mind and those cybersecurity implications are now leading to serious potential consequences. However, unlike ICS/SCADA devices, IoT devices are primarily consumer focused. As we noted in the 2016 Cyber Trends Report, the potential of having multiple devices per household for any developed nation means that collectively these vulnerable devices are the largest digital footprint in the world not under proper security management.

DDoS attacks have always been a staple of cybercrime, but the expanding number of potentially compromised devices, along with cybercriminal tools designed to easily exploit those devices, has created growing concern around the tactic. Due to these concerns, I forecast with moderate confidence that IoT-driven botnets will affect a greater number organizations in 2017 as suppliers, manufacturers, regulators and the security community all continue to wrestle with this ongoing issue.

Author: Adam Meyer

Adam Meyer has served in leadership positions in the defense, technology, and critical infrastructure sectors for more than 15 years. Prior to joining SurfWatch Labs, Mr. Meyer was the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, one of the largest public transportation systems in the United States. Preceding his role as a CISO, Mr. Meyer served as the Director of Information Assurance and Command IA Program Manager for the Naval Air Warfare Center, Naval Air Systems Command one of the Navy's premier engineering and acquisition commands.

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