Installing an IoT-ready security camera or outfitting a crucial production system with IoT technology can put a business in harm’s way. Learn about the security risks that IoT devices can pose and how to mitigate those risks.

On October 9, 2018, security researchers at SEC Consult revealed that millions of security cameras and other video surveillance equipment could be easily hijacked by cybercriminals. And just a few days later, numerous PlayStation 4 (PS4) owners reported that their gaming consoles were crashing after receiving a malicious message on them.

These events might seem unrelated, but they are the result of a common problem: inadequate security in devices that connect to the web, which are referred to as Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These devices connect to the Internet so that they can transmit and receive data. In some cases, products have IoT technology built into them, like security cameras and gaming consoles. In other cases, IoT technology is added to existing equipment or systems. For instance, IoT devices can be added to production processes and heating and cooling systems.

Companies are increasingly using IoT devices to monitor and control various elements in their businesses. However, many of them do not realize they need to protect those devices from cyberattacks. That’s because people usually envision computers and smartphones, not security cameras or thermostats, when thinking about cybersecurity.

Businesses taking advantage of IoT devices need to know about the security risks they can pose and how to mitigate those risks.

The Risks

IoT devices often have security vulnerabilities that make them easy targets for hackers. For example, the devices might ship with default passwords that are easy to crack or the manufacturers might issue firmware updates that are easy to spoof.

Sometimes, devices have multiple security issues. This is what the SEC Consult researchers found when they investigated the video surveillance equipment manufactured by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology. They discovered that the company’s IoT-ready video surveillance devices have several vulnerabilities, many of which are related to a feature called the XMEye P2P Cloud.

Th XMEye feature enables device owners to view video feeds in a web browser or mobile app in real time. To take advantage of it, the owners have to create XMEye accounts. These accounts are riddled with problems, including:

  • All new accounts are admin accounts that have the default username of admin with no default password set. Device owners are not prompted to change the default username or add a password during the initial account setup process. Owners who do not change the username and add a password are leaving their accounts wide open to cyberattacks. Besides viewing video streams, hackers would be able to change the device’s configuration and issue firmware updates. Since Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology does not sign its firmware updates, cybercriminals could issue bogus updates that contain malware.
  • A second undocumented account exists. The account’s username is default and the password is tluafed (the word “default” spelled backward). Anyone logging in with this undocumented user account can view the device’s video streams.

These vulnerabilities are present in all the security cameras, digital video recorders, and network video recorders manufactured by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology. However, the manufacturer’s name is not on any of the devices. Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology sells its devices to other companies, which put their logos on the equipment. Thus, people who have these IoT devices might not even realize they are at risk. (You can find a list of the 100+ brand names the devices are sold under on the SEC Consult researchers’ blog.)

Some manufacturers act responsibly and include security measures in their IoT devices. However, even these devices can be risky because of the actions (or inactions) of the device owners. For instance, IoT device owners might create weak account passwords or not install firmware updates. The PS4 incident provides a good example of the latter. Sony quickly released a firmware update to fix the bug that allowed the malicious message to crash the gaming console. However, users who do not have their consoles configured for automatic updates will still be at risk if they fail to manually install this update.

Help Is on the Way

Steps are being taken to address the fact that many IoT devices have security vulnerabilities. For instance, in September 2018, California became the first US state to pass an IoT security law. It mandates that IoT devices manufacturers include reasonable security features that protect the devices and any data contained in them. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.

Similarly, in October 2018, the UK government published the finalized “Code of Practice” for IoT security. It contains 13 guidelines for IoT device manufacturers to follow to ensure that their devices are secure by design and compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

How to Protect IoT Devices in the Meantime

Although steps are being taken to encourage IoT device manufacturers to build more secure devices, many IoT devices have been and will continue to be built with no security features in place. If these devices are not secured properly, they can put a company at risk, especially when they are connected to the network that hosts the business’s critical data and applications.

As a result, companies need to secure their IoT devices, just like they secure the computers in their IT environments. A good place to start is to:

  • Change each IoT device’s default password to a unique, strong one.
  • Disable any features that are not being used in the IoT devices.
  • Place the IoT devices behind firewalls so that they do not connect directly to the Internet.
  • Isolate IoT devices from the business network.
  • Install patches or upgrades when the manufacturer provides them.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) if remote access to the IoT devices is required.
  • Include IoT devices in IT policies.

If your business is using any IoT devices, we can determine whether they are posing a risk to your business and help you develop a comprehensive strategy to protect them from cybercriminals.