Monday, October 31, 2016

Denial of Service Attacks Exploiting the Internet of Things

The recent denial of service attack against the Domain Name Service provider, Dyn, and exploiting compromised devices on the Internet, has generated a number of proposed solutions to the infrastructure vulnerability represented by the so-called Internet of things.  

One of those proposals involved vigilante hacking to remove vulnerable devices.  It is important to,call this proposal what it is because it puts it in the context of a historical and cultural argument that suggests it is probably a bad idea.  That said, let us consider a related alternative.  

"Nice people do not attach weak systems to the public networks." While understandable, ignorance of the weakness is no excuse.  On the other hand, nice people do not interfere with the operation of another's property.  This is both an ethical and legal conflict.  

However, a system should be able to protect itself from any traffic that it can expect to see on any network to which it is attached.  For SOHO networks, where many of these "things"  can be expected to be, this is not a very high hurdle; for the public networks, even enterprise networks, this may be a very high hurdle indeed.  Part of the solution will be to specify the intended network environment of an appliance.  For example, an appliance might be labeled "intended for home use only; must not be connected to public or enterprise networks."  

Then the community might well consider regulations that make it illegal to attach such devices to the public networks.  Sanctions might include fines or disconnection from the networks under a rule that says, "if it can be  disabled, that is, it is not secure, then it may be disabled."

Under such a rule, one might safely, ethically, and legally connect his light bulbs to his home network. One might connect one's baby monitor to her home network.  One might even access a baby monitor from a mobile using a virtual private network (VPN).  However, should a baby monitor be addressable and operable from the public networks, then it would be permissible to shut it down without notice, whether or not it is compromised and whether or not it is interfering with the public networks. 

Note that such regulation is already within the newly expanded power of the FCC.  For the average user, this would barely impact his use.