Will 2017 the Year of the Hacker?

As 2016 comes to an end, experts noted that the introduction of the Internet of Things and the proliferation of more and more “smart” devices is poised to make 2017 the “Year of the Hacker.”

The Internet of Things refers to a development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity that allows them to both send and receive data.  Everyday objects such as coffee makers and refrigerators are among devices that have become “smart,” and such devices constituted a large portion of popular gifts this past holiday season.  Currently, experts estimate that smart devices number around 12 billion and will rise to over 30 billion by the end of 2020.

Even as consumers laud the introduction of the Internet of Things, cybersecurity experts warn that smart home devices make home networks extremely vulnerable due to a combination of inherent poor programming and a lack of consumer awareness.

Without federal guidance in place, manufacturers have no true incentive to ensure that smart devices are secure.  As a result, in October of 2016, hackers were able to attack and gain control to over 10,000 smart devices, allowing them to block access to well-known services such as Netflix and Twitter.  The most popular type of attacks that hackers utilized against smart devices are known as distributed denial of services (“DDoS”) attacks.  While DDoS attacks typically keep consumers from being able to utilize specific services or websites, some DDoS attacks may also be used as cover for much more sophisticated and sinister cyberattacks.

Hackers also typically like to time their DDoS attacks to coincide with peak times of usage.  For example, gaming services such as Xbox Live, Blizzard Entertainment, and the PlayStation Network often experience a rise in the frequency of these attacks during peak service times such as Christmas or Black Friday.

Fortunately, the government is finally beginning to recognize the importance of cybersecurity.  In response to the blitz attacks of October, the Department of Homeland Security released guidelines and strategic principles for usage of the Internet of Things in November of 2016, calling the vulnerability of smart devices a “matter of homeland security.”  Similarly, Senator Mark Warner, a senator from Virginia and member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has co-founded the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus in response to the growing threat.  Warner has noted that, “I think all of us, from industry to […] government are going to have to up our game in terms of making sure these devices are safe from the very real threat of cyber hackers.”

In the meantime, experts warn that consumers may want to wait on adopting early technology, especially as current federal guidelines are neither binding or regulatory.  For consumers who have already invested in smart devices, experts suggest that, at the very least, they make sure to change any default password settings on smart devices and ensure that they always update their firmware or software to the latest patch to ensure that they properly apply any of the manufacturer’s latest security updates.

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