Cyber Security: Un-Hacking the Connected Home

Cyber Security in the Connected Home With all the talk about the coming Internet of Things and cable's role in the whole ecosystem, there is yet another component that must be considered: cyber security. More consumer products are coming on the market, from home security to thermostats to connected refrigerators and even clothing. All of these devices come with a default user name and password out of the box, but if nothing is done to change them, there is a security hole in the home network.

"Personalization and automation represent an opportunity for nefarious folks in our world to hack into devices. They can do things that are downright annoying to downright costly," said JT Taylor, senior manager, Product Marketing, Service Provider business, Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). "The reality is that most consumers have no idea that when they buy an Energy Star connected refrigerator, there is a password associated. If (someone) gets that password, they can get into the home network."

Recently a well-publicized case where a site with an IP access in Russia had links to 73,000 unsecured web cameras. Many of these links provided the opportunity for viewing inside residential homes. According to Taylor, access was gained through what appeared to be an innocuous email that when opened ran all the known default user name and passwords for any cameras attached to the network.

"(Anyone) could choose a home and see what goes on in the house," Taylor said. "(Privacy aside) this could lead to worse. If someone determined no one was home, it could open the house for a more analog physical attack."

While this was a high profile case, home network hacking could be more prevalent than people realize. Taylor actually could have been victim if he hadn't been more savvy. His Safari browser was not working properly, but transferred him to a page saying he had been infected by a virus and directed him to an 800 number that was supposedly tech support for Apple. He knew better.

"I must have opened something that allowed them to write a Java script on my PC," Taylor said. "The scam is when you call the (perpetrator), they ask for remote access to your PC and start pushing pop ups that make it seem like there is a virus. They ask for $300 to fix it, take the money and remove the Java script. You were never really infected."

In these situations, virus protection and a firewall isn't enough. Cyber security needs to protect the consumer before, during and after the attack, Taylor said. When a consumer purchases a connected thermostat or a refrigerator, there needs to be some kind of prompt letting them know they need to change their username and password. If an attack occurs, the security system needs to detect anomalies and block them, and afterward collect, store and send data so that cyber security can continue to evolve.

With access to customers, billing, and bundled services, service providers are in a great position to capitalize on this, Taylor said." We think they have the high ground to capitalize on this. We see the home cyber security aspect as a direct extension of their service."

If a thermostat or a door lock can be put on the operator's platform, the user can aggregate passwords or even use the same for every device. "Integration is what the average consumer is looking for ... (much like) they want one input remote and guide," Taylor said.

How will operators provide this cyber security? Cisco will offer one option. The company currently is working on revamping its enterprise-grade cyber security system for home use and is looking at rollout during the first half of 2016.

"(A business) has an IT department making sure the security network and all aspects are managed for (all) devices," Taylor said. "The homeowner doesn't have an IT team, but still has a breadth of products and integration needs to happen .... The idea is to make sure the customer doesn't have to worry about it."

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