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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Internet-of-Things Brings Massive Security Backdoors For Government And Hackers

Internet-of-Things Brings Massive Security
Backdoors For Government And Hackers

The US intelligence chief, James Clapper has acknowledged for the first time that agencies might use a new generation of smart household devices to increase their surveillance capabilities.

‘In the future, intelligence services might use the internet of things for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment’, says James Clapper, US director of national intelligence.

James Clapper did not name a specific agency as being involved in surveillance via smart-home devices but said in congressional testimony it is a distinct possibility.

As increasing numbers of devices connect to the internet and to one another, the so-called internet of things promises consumers increased convenience – the remotely operated thermostat from Google-owned Nest is a leading example. But as home computing migrates away from the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone, experts warn that the security features on the coming wave of automobiles, dishwashers and alarm systems lag far behind.

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In an appearance at a Washington thinktank last month, the director of the National Security Agency, Adm Michael Rogers, said that it was time to consider making the home devices “more defensible”, but did not address the opportunities that increased numbers and even categories of connected devices provide to his surveillance agency.


However, James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, was more direct in testimony submitted to the Senate on Tuesday as part of an assessment of threats facing the United States.

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper said.

Clapper did not specifically name any intelligence agency as involved in household-device surveillance. But security experts examining the internet of things take as a given that the US and other surveillance services will intercept the signals the newly networked devices emit, much as they do with those from cellphones.

Amateurs are already interested in easily compromised hardware; computer programmer John Matherly’s search engine Shodan indexes thousands of completely unsecured web-connected devices.

Online threats again topped the intelligence chief’s list of “worldwide threats” the US faces, with the mutating threat of low-intensity terrorism quickly following.

While Clapper has for years used the equivocal term “evolving” when asked about the scope of the threat, he said Tuesday that Sunni violent extremism “has more groups, members, and safe havens than at any other point in history”.

The Islamic State topped the threat index, but Clapper also warned that the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen was redounding to the benefit of al-Qaida’s local affiliate.

Domestically, “homegrown extremists” are the greatest terrorist threat, rather than Islamic State or al-Qaida attacks planned from overseas. Clapper cited the San Bernardino and Chattanooga shootings as examples of lethal operations emanating from self-starting extremists “without direct guidance from [Isis] leadership”.

US intelligence officials did not foresee Isis suffering significant setbacks in 2016 despite a war in Syria and Iraq that the Pentagon has pledged to escalate. The chief of defense intelligence, Marine Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, said the jihadist army would “probably retain Sunni Arab urban centers” in 2016, even as military leaders pledged to wrest the key cities of Raqqa and Mosul from it.


Contradicting the US defense secretary, Ashton Carter, Stewart said he was “less optimistic in the near term about Mosul”, saying the US and Iraqi government would “certainly not” retake it in 2016.

The negative outlook comes as Carter traveled on Tuesday to meet with his fellow defense chiefs in Brussels for a discussion on increasing their contributions against Isis.

On the Iran nuclear deal, Clapper said intelligence agencies were in a “distrust and verify mode”, but added: “We have no evidence thus far that they’re moving toward violation.”

Wireless Camera Finder

Clapper’s admission about the surveillance potential for networked home devices is rare for a US official. But in an overlooked 2012 speech, the then CIA director David Petraeus called the surveillance implications of the internet of things “transformational … particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft”.

During testimony to both the Senate armed services committee and the intelligence panel, Clapper cited Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State as bolstering their online espionage, disinformation, theft, propaganda and data-destruction capabilities. He warned that the US’s ability to correctly attribute the culprits of those actions would probably diminish with “improving offensive tradecraft, the use of proxies, and the creation of cover organizations”.

Clapper suggested that US adversaries had overtaken its online capabilities: “Russia and China continue to have the most sophisticated cyber programs.”

The White House’s new cybersecurity initiative, unveiled on Tuesday, pledged increased security for nontraditional networked home devices. It tasked the Department of Homeland Security to “test and certify networked devices within the ‘Internet of Things’.” It did not discuss any tension between the US’s twin cybersecurity and surveillance priorities.

Connected household devices are a potential treasure trove to intelligence agencies seeking unobtrusive ways to listen and watch a target, according to a study that Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society released last week. The study found that the signals explosion represented by the internet of things would overwhelm any privacy benefits by users of commercial encryption – even as Clapper in his testimony again alleged that the growth of encryption was having a “negative effect on intelligence gathering”.

The report’s authors cited a 2001 case in which the FBI had sought to compel a company that makes emergency communications hardware for automobiles – similar by description to OnStar, though the company was not named – to assist agents in Nevada in listening in on conversations in a client’s car.

In February 2015, news reports revealed that microphones on Samsung “smart” televisions were “always on” so as to receive any audio that it could interpret as an instruction.

“Law enforcement or intelligence agencies may start to seek orders compelling Samsung, Google, Mattel, Nest or vendors of other networked devices to push an update or flip a digital switch to intercept the ambient communications of a target,” the authors wrote.


The Internet-of-Medical-Things: Five Innovative Examples

An asthma inhaler with a built-in GPS-sensor. Digital contact lenses for diabetics, measuring the values of blood sugar. A digital tattoo, which measures the heartbeat or the body temperature of a baby. A cap for professional sportsmen, registering the hits on the head. Containers of drugs, with saved schedules to monitor the medication. A better patient care through optimized workflows and integrated systems.

The newest developments in the field Internet of Things show that health management is being increasingly conducted over the smartphone. The following projects show the diversity of the application possibilities:

1. Propeller Health: An Asthma Inhaler With A Built-In GPS-Sensor, Approved By The FDA

According to CDC data, 26 mn. Americans suffer from asthma. A tracking device, which is placed into an asthma inhaler, shall provide support and help reduce the cost for health systems and thus for patients. Every time when Asthmapolis is used, time and location are being saved, the GPS-data recorded and imported into a personal profile. This way, people suffering from asthma can observe at which locations he/she gets asthma attacks most frequently and can avoid them. If the person suffering from asthma agrees to have his/her data published, he/she can possibly even help others, who suffer from the same disease. As an example, the Economist mentions the case of asthma epidemics in the 80s in Barcelona: only after several telephone interviews, it was possible to identify that each asthma attack had occurred in close proximity to harbors, and that all asthma attacks occurred at the same point in time, namely, when soya beans had been unloaded from the ships.

2. Novartis, Google: Digital Contact Lenses For Diabetics

There are around 350 mn. diabetics worldwide. So far, the only method to measure the levels of blood sugar has been to daily stab the patient in the finger, several times a day, and to then examine the values using drops of the blood. The contact lenses, jointly developed by Google and the Swiss health care group Novartis, should help diabetics to measure their levels of blood sugar through tear liquid and to transfer it to a glucose monitor or a smart device, e.g. a mobile phone. Novartis has already developed a prototype and hopes to achieve significant market penetration in the next five years.

3. MC10: 24/7 Monitoring of The Vital Functions With BioStamps

The US start-up MC 10 develops a new dimension of Wearable Computing. Among the first solution has been wearable electronics in the shape of an elastomer plaster, kind of a high-tech tattoo, which can measure a whole load of biometric data, such as muscle activity, heartbeat, or brainwaves. This could improve not only the medical treatment of sick people, but also the ability of parents to monitor the body temperature of their baby in real time, for example. In cooperation with Reebok came the first commercial application – the so called checklight protection cap with LED based traffic light system, which indicates the danger of a head injury. The device has already been used in trainings of professional sportspeople. The caps register the intensity of hits on the head of the sportsman, and are available for $150 in the Reebok Shops.

4. Vitality: Monitoring of Medication

The WHO expects an average level of around 50 %, that is, the half of all therapeutical prescriptions do not get executed in the way prescribed by the doctor. Medication can be improved and made a lot easier with the use of apps, e.g. through calendar functions, reminders, or support in the re-ordering process. With its system GlowCabs, Vitality has been one of the pioneers in this area and has been present on the market since 2010. Those drug containers use light and sounds to signal the patient when the time to take the medicine has come. They also remind the patient automatically through a call. Moreover, every week a report is being sent to GlowCap customers, with information about how the respective patient has been taking his or her medication.

5. Microsoft, Healthcast: Connection of Different Systems For Optimization of Work Flows in Hospitals

The Henry Mayo Newhall hospital in Valencia, California, had been searching for a solution, how to help doctors spend more time with their patients. In cooperation with Microsoft the California hospital implemented an intelligent system with a so called single-sign-on, which provides the doctors with an access to a wide range of data: from patient files to test results, prescriptions and a lot more. This was achieved by connecting 175 hospital devices, as well as the personal devices of the doctors, to the available computing offices and systems. Thanks to the new system, the doctors have secure access to examine laboratory tests, to write prescriptions, or to view the patient files at any time. As a result, the time for registration was reduced by 95% – from two minutes to six seconds. This frees up time, which can be invested in the patient‘s treatment.

Conclusion: A handful of fascinating examples. They show that the market for health care is one of the fields, in which the Internet of Things has already arrived. At the same time, the examples emphasize what type of dynamics will drive the market forward. Experts expect that the market for ‘Wearable Health’ devices will grow up to $50 bn. in the next 10 years. Data safety is already one of the focal topics in health care: consumers should feel confident and safe that the collected data will not be made publicly available. Currently, there are too few rules, but the mass market will be reached only if such rules are set up and adhered to.


Cybersecurity is considered a top priority for businesses, but a recent study found that two out of five respondents across board, C-suite and technical levels didn’t feel responsible for the repercussions of a cyberattack.
The research, called The Accountability Gap: Cybersecurity and Building a Culture of Responsibility, found that most executives don’t have a clear picture of their network resilience nor are they prepared to detect and respond in the event of a breach. As legislation across the globe evolves to make organizations accountable for loss of personal data as a result of cybercrime, board members need to become as capable of reading a cyber report as they are of analyzing balance sheets.
“As the leadership becomes more knowledgeable, you have a drip down effect,” said Chris Brauer, director of innovation and senior lecturer at the Institute of Management Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, who directed the research commissioned by Nasdaq and Emeryville, Calif.-based cybersecurity firm Tanium Inc. He said that “drip down effect” was evident in corporate use of social media; as leaders gained fluency in it, organizations became more comfortable embracing social media.
The study focused on measuring an organization’s vulnerability to cyber risk by evaluating its awareness of the risk and its ability to address it. It combined a qualitative and quantitative approach that entailed interviews to define challenges to boosting an organization’s awareness and readiness. It also surveyed 1,530 non-executive directors, C-suite executives, chief information officers and chief information security officers at companies with at least 1,000 employees in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
After completing the survey, the participating organization received a vulnerability score. Eighty percent of respondents were found to have a medium-level of vulnerability, and another 10% were highly vulnerable to breaches. The remaining 10% presented low vulnerability. The study created a baseline for the participants and with the data in hand, organizations can start taking steps to move away from the high vulnerability corner, said Mr. Brauer.
Among the highly vulnerable companies, 91% of non-executive directors cannot read a cybersecurity report and nearly 100% of those companies don’t track devices on their network. Among this group, only 9% said their systems were regularly updated in response to cyberthreats, and 87% of them don’t consider their malware, antivirus software and patches to be 100% up-to-date at all times.
“Traditionally, IT spending is going to protection, to preventing the bad guy getting in; organizations aren’t equipped to respond and remediate the [damage caused by] the bad guy,” said Richard Olver, vice president of Europe, Middle East and Africa for Tanium. But as new rules become effective in making organizations disclose breaches and the steps taken to contain losses, boards will have to take ownership of cybersecurity, he said.
Although chief information officers and chief information security officers are spending more time in front of boards, often times the exchange is truncated not only by the lack of cyber knowledge among board members but also because the technical experts aren’t always effective communicators.
“The technical security [teams] are owners of the documents they produce, they need to be able to define, quantify and convey the actual impact of a breach,” said Louis Modano, senior vice president of global infrastructure and chief information security officer at Nasdaq.
Nasdaq plans to make the cybersecurity vulnerability assessment available to its members and others in the near future, so the data will continue to be collated and progress tracked.
Not unlike other issues of compliance, cybersecurity can be managed by engendering a shift in the organization’s culture, the report concluded. It suggests creating a culture of vigilance, acknowledging that cybersecurity is a fundamental threat to the business; a culture of openness by increasing cyberliteracy and knowledge from the top-down; and a culture of innovation to ensure the right technology and technologists are in place to tackle current threats.

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated.

Monty Henry, Owner


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