Few sounds represent an era like the grating, staticky, machine garble of a dialup modem of the early days of the internet. Pictures loaded painfully slowly. CD-ROMs arrived in the mail providing 20, no 50!, no 200 HOURS OF FREE INTERNET! The dialup connection meant that family members couldn’t use the telephone because — and this might surprise teens today — we used landlines to talk to people.
How things have changed.
Today, even the slowest internet connections would seem miraculous by early internet standards. Fast connections? Those pretty much are miraculous, allowing us to stream songs and video, transfer massive files, or video conference with colleagues and loved ones on other continents almost instantaneously. And these possibilities aren’t just for our computers; we can make these astonishing connections using our cell phones.
That’s just the beginning. A new era is taking hold — “The Internet of Things” — in which many of us will have dozens of devices that connect to cloud-based services, including security systems, refrigerators, thermostats, printers, exercise systems, light dimmers, window blinds, utilities meters and entertainment systems. Outside the home, the Internet of Things (IoT) already includes smart watches that track calories or fitness goals and a litany of smartphone apps. Soon, IoT will include more wearable technology and, vehicle safety and automation. IoT devices will become so widespread that, according to Statista, 75 billion devices will connect to the internet or cloud services by 2025. These devices will make us, our cars and our homes more comfortable, efficient and entertained.
The proliferation of IoT devices has only started, said Jeff Shiner, Micron IoT Solutions marketing director. Companies, including Micron customers and enablers, are already developing the next wave of new and exciting IoT devices.
“All of a sudden, everything we thought was very futuristic no longer looks so futuristic because we have customers already building them,” Shiner said.
But of course, there’s a downside.
Any device or app that connects to the internet is vulnerable to hackers, viruses, malware and data tracking software. However, where banks or online retailers generally take great precaution in limiting hackers’ entry into their systems, a lot of edge IoT devices do not. In the IoT world, the ecosystem of your devices is only as strong as the weakest link. That smart fridge or smart printer can “open the door” and provide hackers access to more crucial and sensitive systems and personal information.
Hackers are already exposing these vulnerabilities. In 2018, what started as a harmless fan campaign to make PewDiePie the most-subscribed YouTube channel turned more sinister. Messages encouraging people to subscribe to the channel started printing on vulnerable printers connected to the internet —unsolicited — raising fears that the next such attack wouldn’t be as harmless.
Other incidents were scarier. Last year in a Houston home, a voice spoke through a baby monitoring camera, claiming to be an abductor who was in the house. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but it and similar accounts involving voices speaking through baby cameras show how dark these security matters can get.
Micron doesn’t make IoT devices. However, the microchip company is working on hardware solutions that will help make sure that fewer PewDiePie printer stories or creepy baby monitoring incidents happen. According to Shiner, “There are all these vulnerabilities, and nobody has a good answer because they’ve been so focused on encryption. That’s where a hardware solution is different. We can build security right into the silicon.”
Building the Trust Chain
Most cybersecurity efforts rely on software to repel hackers and viruses, like how you’ve probably run antivirus software on your laptop. Those types of scans and firewalls can be effective, but they might not prevent a hacker from entering a network through an IoT device and using it to access others. In short, no software stops 100% of threats.
Adding security features to memory has the potential to shut down that kind of fraudulent lateral access. Because IoT devices rely on flash memory, Micron hopes the memory security technology, Authenta, that it’s developing will confirm trusted lines of communications with a host, whether that means transmitting to and from the cloud or to another device.
What’s more, Authenta and other secure memory solutions strive to recognize when something is amiss and reset its function to normal. This kind of “self-healing” was proven possible during Micron simulations using factory robots. In the simulation, robots were hacked and their work routines disrupted. While the robots protected by software firewalls became infected and then transmitted the virus to other machines, the robots with secure hardware recognized abnormalities and rebooted using their original, safe protocols.
“That kind of self-healing could be a game-changer for protecting industry as well as for securing home devices”, Shiner said. For example, the health care industry has faced several high-profile hacks, including attacks in which ransomware held hospitals hostage. Devices with secure memory could improve the odds for hospitals to avoid such crisis.
“There have been a lot of hacks that brought hospitals to their knees,” he said. “A self-healing piece of equipment could make it so that maybe the lights would go off, but the cardiac arrest unit would still run. It could be that solution.”
Secure memory solutions are one key to securing IoT devices, software is another, but the most important key is you, the end user.
Tips for Securing Your IoT Ecosystem
Although Micron is developing this memory security technology, IoT security is an important concern. In many cases, developers of smart gadgets for homes, vehicles and beyond haven’t been giving the same level of attention to their security as, say, to PCs or financial apps. That must change in the coming years as IoT devices become more ubiquitous and touch most aspects of our daily lives.
The onus for digital security starts with device manufacturers, but it extends to you, the end user. Here’s a quick list of tips that will help keep hackers and malware out of your IoT ecosystem.
- Give your home router a name — Choose a router name that is not associated with your address or that gives away any personal identifiers.
- Encrypt your Wi-Fi — Use a strong encryption method, such as WPA2, when you set up your network.
- Set up a guest network — Don’t share your Wi-Fi password with anybody. Create a guest network for guests that doesn’t tap into your IoT system.
- Change default usernames and passwords —Assume that hackers know preset usernames and passwords. Create your own and make sure that IoT devices allow you to create new passwords before you buy them.
- Secure IoT devices with unique passwords — Create unique passwords using a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. “Password,” “123456,” “P@ssw0rd,” or even “Blink182,” (as clever as it may seem) aren’t going to keep your IoT devices safe.
- Check device settings —Take the time to familiarize yourself with device settings and change them to your preference. Some default security settings actually benefit the manufacturer more than they benefit you, the user.
- Disable features you don’t need — If you don’t need a device to communicate with others, disable their access to one another.
- Regularly update your software — Don’t put off installing updates for your smartphone or other devices. Updates often include security enhancements reacting to new malware.
- Check on older devices —Consider upgrading to newer, safer gadgets since many older IoT devices offer no or weak security.
- Embrace two-step authentication — Two-factor authentication, also called 2FA, greatly bolsters security and comes in a variety of types.