Smart home owner? Don't make your crib easy pickings for the smart home pwner

Consumer IoT PITA to secure but not impossible, report warns

Dog waits on a Welcome mat. photo by sHutterstock

If you live in a smart home you may as well take all the locks off your doors and hang up a sign saying "burglars, free swag here". At least that's the thrust of a report by Trend Micro into the security threats posed by "complex IoT environments".

Those environments are what peddlers of IoT home gadgetry would describe as the "smart home", a semi-hypothetical place full of Talkie Toasters, creepy always-on audio surveillance devices such as Amazon's Alexa or Google Home, as well as other "traditional dumb appliances" converted into data-generating repositories of information about your daily routines.

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Trend's latest report, Cybersecurity Risks in Complex IoT Environments, painted a vision of the future in which an entirely benign network of these devices could be abused to silently and successfully pwn your home, ready for thieves to walk away with your domestic treasures at will. With some concepts for smart homes incorporating local NASes, network switches, multiple Wi-Fi routers and mesh arrays – all of this just to connect the smart home devices to the wider internet – the potential size of the attack surface is obvious.

Some of these setups, said Trend, allow homeowners to define rules for their smart gadgets. For example, you can configure your smart home to play a doorbell sound over a Sonos speaker if your Ring Doorbell detects motion while the owner's phone is inside the home, or a barking dog sound if the owner's phone is not within range of the home network. A useful home security feature, right?

"How would it be possible to validate that a sound bite playing over Sonos is not instructing [Amazon] Alexa to disable the motion sensors around the house?" asked Trend rhetorically. "This is all in addition to protecting against all the everyday threats like DDoS, [man-in-the-middle], zero-day, IoT malware, malware, unpatched vulnerability exploitation, and the like."

The research outfit also warned of the threat posed by home automation platforms such as popular open-source server Home Assistant being left exposed online if improperly secured, saying: "There are ways that an attacker can collect information about how the systems are configured and what automation rules control the house."

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An attacker with access to an insecure deployment of Home Assistant, for example, could use their access to its logs to determine what times a homeowner's personal phone left and rejoined the network, allowing a burglar to successfully work out when they are least likely to be disturbed while breaking in. A careless homeowner might even configure their smart door locks to open automatically upon their return. A smart burglar could simply add their own phone as a "trusted device" in Home Assistant in order to walk in as if they owned the place, Trend said.

"An attacker would only have to look at the automation configuration file with the known devices, insert a new trusted device the attacker owns into this file, and add it to the smart lock automation logic."

A really crafty burglar could even write a home automation rule to use a garage motion sensor camera for taking a picture whenever movement is detected nearby and forwarding that to a defined channel on Slack, the free chatroom app. A smart burglar could wait for a Slack notification that the homeowner is in their garage and then walk in unobserved – or a smart kidnapper could wait until a target's presence is conclusively proved by the home automation tech before swooping.

All is not doom and gloom, however easy it might be to take a very pessimistic (who, us?) view of home automation.

"We conclude that IoT security is far from an easy problem to solve, but it is NOT an impossible one. The true challenge is trying to keep pace with the development of new IoT devices and the ever-evolving [complex IoT environment]." ®




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