Researchers from Dalhousie University (Canada) and the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) have published a working paper detailing a proof-of-concept attack on smart lightbulbs that allows them to wirelessly take over the bulbs from up to 400m, write a new operating system to them, and then cause the infected bulbs to spread the attack to all the vulnerable bulbs in reach, until an entire city is infected.Note that the attack doesn't spread via the Internet. Rather, it spreads by built-in wifi that bypasses your home firewall. This is bad, bad juju:
First, the facts. Those websites went down because their domain name provider — a company named Dyn — was forced offline. We don't know who perpetrated that attack, but it could have easily been a lone hacker. Whoever it was launched a distributed denial-of-service attack against Dyn by exploiting a vulnerability in large numbers — possibly millions — of Internet-of-Things devices like webcams and digital video recorders, then recruiting them all into a single botnet. The botnet bombarded Dyn with traffic, so much that it went down. And when it went down, so did dozens of websites.Bruce Schneier says that we need government regulation to address this. I think that's a bad idea - any regulation seems unlikely to have enough security technical requirements to make much difference. A better approach is to address the market failure - if the ISP were required to drop customers who had devices that were used in these attacks, the end customer would very quickly care rather a lot about whether their light bulbs were secure.
Your security on the Internet depends on the security of millions of Internet-enabled devices, designed and sold by companies you've never heard of to consumers who don't care about your security.
The technical reason these devices are insecure is complicated, but there is a market failure at work. The Internet of Things is bringing computerization and connectivity to many tens of millions of devices worldwide. These devices will affect every aspect of our lives, because they're things like cars, home appliances, thermostats, lightbulbs, fitness trackers, medical devices, smart streetlights and sidewalk squares. Many of these devices are low-cost, designed and built offshore, then rebranded and resold. The teams building these devices don't have the security expertise we've come to expect from the major computer and smartphone manufacturers, simply because the market won't stand for the additional costs that would require. These devices don't get security updates like our more expensive computers, and many don't even have a way to be patched. And, unlike our computers and phones, they stay around for years and decades.
An additional market failure illustrated by the Dyn attack is that neither the seller nor the buyer of those devices cares about fixing the vulnerability. The owners of those devices don't care. They wanted a webcam — or thermostat, or refrigerator — with nice features at a good price. Even after they were recruited into this botnet, they still work fine — you can't even tell they were used in the attack. The sellers of those devices don't care: They've already moved on to selling newer and better models. There is no market solution because the insecurity primarily affects other people. It's a form of invisible pollution.