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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ferguson

Outsmarting your smart devices

The Internet of Things, a growing constellation of so-called “smart” devices such as doorbells, Internet-connected cameras, and smoke detectors, has long been criticized for its almost total absence of security. Smart device makers like TP-Link, Amazon, Google, and Wyze are no strangers to controversy when it comes to the sorry state of IoT security, yet the U.S. government hasn’t done much to enact legislation to protect the buyers of these devices.

In 2025, the IoT device market is projected to bring in nearly $31 billion dollars in revenue for smart device manufacturers. As the market grows, so do opportunities for malicious actors to exploit weaknesses in IoT devices’ firmware, software, and the cloud infrastructure that lets users conveniently manage those devices from their PCs and smartphones.

The statistics are grim: between January and June 2021, Kaspersky estimated that approximately 1.5 billion security breaches were carried out against these Internet-connected smart devices. Kaspersky further found that approximately 872 million, or 58% of the total number of breaches, were carried out with the intent to mine cryptocurrency on those devices. While each IoT device has fairly miniscule processing power, a network of a billion or more of these devices mining cryptocurrency or spreading malware is a formidable threat.

While compromised smart home devices can expose sensitive data and cost consumers money, a much more critical threat exists in the medical IoT sector. In early 2022, Cynerio found that 53% of medical devices have a known critical vulnerability. These vulnerabilities often go unpatched by the medical device manufacturers and pose a serious threat to patient health and safety. Questions are also raised about an insurer’s willingness to cover a hospital or medical facility that implements devices which contain these vulnerabilities, unless mitigating actions are taken.

Cynerio’s January 2022 report on the state of the medical Internet of Things also found that a majority of devices used in medicine (pharmacology, oncology, laboratory) are running versions of Windows older than Windows 10. This includes medical devices running versions of Windows as old as Windows XP, released in 2001. Microsoft ended all support for Windows XP in April 2014, but a significant number of expensive medical devices, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scan machines, still rely on computers running the now 22-year-old operating system. Research by Palo Alto Networks in March 2020 found that 83% of these devices rely on unsupported operating systems, such as Windows XP and Windows 7.

Hospitals are usually reticent to upgrade, even if unsupported software puts their patients at risk or jeopardizes their HIPAA compliance, because upgrading operating systems may mean upgrading expensive hardware. Given skyrocketing costs for the patient and the provider, hospitals find themselves in the unenviable position of having to choose between painting an ever-larger security target on their backs or spending millions of dollars on hardware and software upgrades.

Unfortunately for hospitals and other medical facilities, refusing to upgrade can mean serious fines imposed by the federal government. Just last month, the Department of Health and Human Services reached a $75,000 settlement with Kentucky-based iHealth Solutions, provider of software and services for the medical sector, for violating HIPAA security and privacy laws. HHS determined that iHealth Solutions did not disclose or remediate weaknesses within its own network, leading to a data breach and release of patient records in 2017.

For the healthcare industry, in particular, network security and compliance have become particularly thorny issues, given the requirements that federal and state laws set forth for the transmission and storage of patient data. The specter of compromised medical devices only adds to the pressure on hospitals to employ best security and networking practices, lock down devices, and deploy software and hardware from known vendors with a track record of supporting their products.

For non-medical industries, the stakes may be lower but the importance of data security should still be top-of-mind for business owners. The Internet of Things is rapidly evolving and represents substantial added value to businesses who want to harness data to make better decisions; the devices we allow on our networks, however, must be managed and monitored to ensure they don’t become a liability.

IoT security isn’t going to become easier as the segment grows, in our opinion. More devices on networks means more potential for exploits and theft of sensitive information. When we talk about data breaches in 2023, we don’t ask “if”, but “when”. This probably isn’t the optimistic take that business owners and IT managers want to hear, but threats are only becoming more complex. Data security is hard and requires an ongoing effort from your IT provider, as well as an ongoing commitment from you, the business owner–anything less can expose you to identity theft, fraud, regulatory fines, or even your business. Geek Housecalls and Geeks for Business offers free security consultations for home and business. Get in touch today for your free consultation and a detailed IT plan, tailored to your unique needs.

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