Aug 052014
General Electric GEnx jet engine is social media enabled

One of the great concerns about the internet of things is what happens when older computer technology that was never designed to be connected to the net is exposed to the online world.

A presentation to the Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas this Thursday by researcher Ruben Santamarta promises to show some of the vulnerabilities in aircraft avionic systems.

Today’s aircraft are extremely smart devices with the downsides shown in the tragedy of AF447 where an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic Ocean when two undertrained pilots didn’t understand what their plane was doing as it encountered severe ice conditions in a storm.

With aircrew increasingly dependent upon computers to help them fly planes, the risks of bugs or security weaknesses in aircraft systems is a serious issue and with the continued mystery of MH370′s fate adds an element of speculation that a glitch of some form was responsible for its disappearance.

It wouldn’t be the first time a passenger plane came to grief because of a computer error; most notably Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Antarctica’s Mount Erebus during a 1979 sightseeing trip due to wrong information being loaded into the navigation system.

The internet adds numerous risk factors to aircraft – Santamarta’s hack allegedly works through in plane WiFi systems – particularly given these avionics systems haven’t been designed to deal with unauthorised access into their networks.

Should Santamarta’s demonstration prove feasible, it will be an important warning to the aviation industry and the broader Internet of Things community that security is a pressing issue in a world where critical equipment is connected.

Jul 312014

Following yesterday’s posts on BlackBerry, security and the Internet of Things, HP Fortify released a report saying seventy percent of IoT devices are vulnerable to hackers.

The list of weaknesses is chilling and illustrates why IoT security is an issue that has to be resolved now.

It may well be that John Chen, BlackBerry’s CEO, has backed the right horse for his company.

Jul 242014
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Smartphones for the vision impaired, malware on portable devices and online trust were the topics of the July technology spot on  Tony Delroy’s Nightlife along with why a restaurant claims Google sent it broke and how we can’t always trust what we hear online.

If you missed the show, you can download the program from the website.

For sight impaired smartphone users both Doug and Nick called in to suggest Vision Australia’s services. The organisation has a page dedicated to smartphone and tablet resources.

Nick and Peter asked about malware protection for Android smartphones. Both Intel’s McAfee Mobile Security and Sophos’ Mobile Security for Android are free for home users.

The next spot is scheduled for 4 September, if you have any topics you’d like to discuss contact me or the Nightlife producers.

Jun 252014

The news that hackers have turned their attention to Nest thermostats raises some delicious possibilities for the Internet of Things.

Jailbreaking smartphones has been normal for years as people circumvent restrictions to add features or software and there’s no reason that this can’t be done to smart thermostats, light bulbs or kettles.

Almost all the smart devices being deployed have processors and capabilities far greater than what’s needed to carry out their designed purpose, so an imaginative hacker can do some interesting things with a jailbroken home automation system.

Using your kettle to control your lights or fridge to open your garage door is a bit of gimmick but there’s plenty of potential for doing some cool, and mischievous, things.

While hacking the smart home for kicks might be relatively harmless, tinkering with industrial devices could have unintended and disastrous consequences. It’s another example why security is one of the top concerns as the Internet of Things is rolled out.

Jun 222014

A few weeks back I gave a presentation to the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association as part of Staying Safe Online Week.

The presentation, Security In The Age of Connected Kettles, looked at where we are today with online security and some of the challenges facing individuals, businesses and communities as threats become more pervasive with cloud computing, personal technology and the internet of things while the people creating these risks become more professional.

Overall, it’s not a cheery scenario and I end with a call to action that we have to start insisting business, public sector and political leaders start taking online security seriously as a public safety issue.

Over ten slides we covered where we are today in personal and small business online security and some of the challenges facing individuals as computing moves onto the cloud and smartphones.

The ongoing online safety battle

Online safety is evolving as we move from PCs to tablets and smartphones, today the risks are increasingly appearing on our mobile devices although the desktop computer and email scams remain the biggest risk.

It’s increasingly about the money

A change to the security landscape in recent times has been the rise of professional malware. While a decade ago most of the hacks and viruses we saw were the work of people demonstrating their skills or causing mischief, today there is big money in compromising computers and capturing data.

The rise of ransomware

One of the best examples of the professionalisation of the internet’s bad guy is the rise of ransomware.

Ransomware locks your computer with a demand for payment to release your data; if you don’t pay you lose all your information.

Many of the online threats though are far more subtle; the theft of data from Target, compromises of Sony’s customer databases and ongoing security breaches illustrate how the risks are far greater than just on our desktop.

Smartphone lockups

Ransomware has moved off personal computers onto smartphones with both Android and Apple systems being attacked.
The ‘hacked by Oleg Pliss’ message is a good example of how Apple’s products are just as much at risk as other companies’ platforms.
Also the ‘hacked by Oleg Pliss’ lockup shows how the security aspects of cloud computing services are going to become more important to the average person.

Security basics

The basic advice for the average user remains the same;

  • Strong passwords
  • Don’t use common passwords
  • Be careful what you click on or visit
  • Keep your systems up to date
  • Have good security software

However times are changing and many security issues are out of the average person’s control.

Lessons from Heartbleed

The Heartbleed Open SSL bug illustrated the limits of individuals in protecting their information. As a bug in the secure socket layer software, the Heartbleed Bug could expose sensitive data on websites using the service.

The disappointing thing with Heartbleed is that people following good security policies were vulnerable.

Probably the biggest threat with Heartbleed however is the Internet of Things, where relatively simple devices – the connected kettle – could expose security credentials.

The Target hack

Another example of how security is beyond the control of the individual user is the Target hack. Hackers found their way into the US department store’s network though an airconditioning contractor. From there, they were able to steal millions of customer payment details.

The Target hack is one of dozens of similar coporate security compromises and this will continue until security is taken seriously by company directors and regulators.

A pocket sized security breach

As the Oleg Pliss hack showed, smartphones are not immune to security breaches.

With our phones gathering increasingly more data on our behaviour, protecting the data they gather is going to become one of the biggest challenges facing us.

Rich data

Smartphones are not just gathering location data, as technologies like iBeacons roll out more information is being gathered from more sources.

When we go shopping, attend a football game or visit the doctor these technologies are collecting information on our personal habits and behaviour.

Not a generational issue

One of the myths around security and privacy is that concerns revolve around the generations.

The idea that only older people care about privacy or that younger folk understand technology is a myth.

Unfortunately however our political and business leaders come from a segment of society that doesn’t care about or understand the technology or issues.

If meaningful change is to be made in securing our information, then we’re going to have to demand our business and political leaders take these issues seriously.

Jun 172014
how do we protect our data and information from telephone hacks and other security risks

Possibly the most embarrassing of the outbreak of computer hacks in late 2011 was the breaching of prominent geopolitical analysts Strategic Consulting, also known as Stratfor.

The Daily Dot dissects what went wrong for Stratfor based on a leaked report from Verizon Business who carried out a “forensic investigation” of the hack which the company claims cost them $3.8 million in damages.

While the monetary damages were substantial for a relatively small company, Stratfor’s reputation was probably the greatest casualty as customers’ credit card details were exposed and the firm’s confidential files were distributed by Wikileaks.

The tragic thing is that none of this would have happened had Stratfor followed basic IT security practices, something that every business should be following.

Don’t store credit card details

Probably Stratfor’s biggest mistake was storing customers’ credit card details – there is no reason for saving your clients’ payment details. Ever.

If you’re accepting credit cards, organise a payment service to handle that work for you as they know what they are doing and take most of the management hassles, security and fraud risks.

In most cases, these companies’ fees are no more than manual processing fees that Stratfor and most businesses manually processing payments get hit with anyway.

Password policies

Another basic mistake was that passwords were shared and kept simple; there is no excuse for giving staff the same password to access confidential or critical files and systems.

Similarly, there wasn’t a ‘need to know’ policy; that is, that an analyst has no reason to have access to HR files and the receptionist no need to be looking at sales figures. Sensitive data should only be accessible to those who need it for their day-to-day work.

Remarkably, Stratfor didn’t have any properly configured firewalls and on many computers didn’t have up to data anti-virus protection. All of this made it easy for hackers to get into the network and access confidential information.

The online pains of growing a business

In some respects it’s possible to feel sorry for Stratfor’s management, the report is a classic example of a business that outgrew the IT structure for a one or two person operation founded by men who didn’t understand the risks of the internet.

Today there’s no excuse not to have systems locked down or to lack a company culture that recognises data security as being essential in the modern business world.

Stratfor’s hack was a spectacular example of what could go wrong, but it’s a warning for all businesses about the importance of security in a connected world.