LAS VEGAS â Smart devices have a problem. Most of their magic requires that they connect to the internet, but the internet can be a dangerous place.
Malware is everywhere, and when it infects connected gadgets, it can be a problem for everybody.Â
But a new class of device is rising to combat this trend, and it’s on full display at CES 2017.
Late last year the term “botnet” became a buzzword thanks to a major cyberattack on Dyn, one of the companies that provides some of the basic infrastructure of the internet. Hackers were able to employ a network of infected smart devices â thermostats, security cameras, routers and who knows what else â from all over the world â to act as one in a DDoS attack, which crippled many well-known services, including Twitter.
Collectively, all those infected gadgets compose the Mirai botnet, and it’s still out there, laying dormant until it’s commandeered for its next attack.Â
It was able to come into being because of lack of any kind of security standard for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, many of which are easily infected if their default settings aren’t changed by the consumers who own them. Since their owners probably aren’t even aware their devices are infected, it’s unlikely they’ll get rid of the malware anytime soon.
A new class of device is entering the spotlight: the internet security gadget
Critics have been screaming about the lack of security in smart gadgets for years. Even with improving standards (like ditching easy-to-guess default passwords), there’s only so much manufacturers can do. IoT devices connect to the internet like any computer, but their relatively unsophisticated system software, powered by feeble chips, makes them much more vulnerable to malware.
Now a few networking companies are doing something about that. At CES, a new class of device is entering the spotlight: the internet security gadget â a device that is either a special kind of router or attaches to one, promising to monitor and protect your digital comings and goings.
The Norton Core is one such gadget. A consumer router built with security in mind, the Core doesn’t just connect devices â it monitors them for suspicious activity. If one day it sees that, say, your Nest is suddenly transferring data in weird ways or communicating with strange IP addresses, it’ll send you an alert.
It doesn’t stop there: the Core can also segment your Internet of Things devices to another layer of your network, essentially insulating them from your “serious” computing, at least reducing the risk that a compromised device could lead to a compromised PC.
BitDefender has a similar counterpunch to hacking in the second version of its Box router, shipping later in 2017. Box 2 monitors IoT traffic as well, but the company claims it employs machine learning to identify suspicious traffic, analyze it and figure out what course of action to recommend. It also makes judicious use of VPNs to protect your everyday browsing from prying eyes.
What Norton and Bitdefender are doing is worthwhile â many devices shown at CES are essentially digital snake oil, but botnet malware and IoT hacking are real and serious problems that need solving.Â
Still, it’s difficult to see that many people going out of their way to buy a security-oriented router because PayPal went down for a few hours last fall.
A better motivator, perhaps, is camera hacking. There’s been a spate of frightening hacks of nanny cams in the past few years, with some creeps taunting the people on camera. Although you don’t need a military-grade router to defend against such attacks (changing the camera’s default password should do), the hacks are a reminder that there are weirdos out there who want to hack into your cameras â even Mark Zuckerberg covers his webcam when he’s not using it.
It’s anyone’s guess whether enough people will ever take home-network security seriously enough to put a dent in the botnet problem. But at least now they have the tools to do so.Â