‘Internet of Things’ manufacturers must toughen cyber security

cyber
Margot James

Bosses behind ‘smart’ devices such as televisions, toys and speakers found in millions of homes will be expected to build-in tough new security measures that last the lifetime of the product, as part of plans to keep the nation safe from the increasing cyber threat.

Estimates show every household in the UK owns at least 10 internet-connected devices and this is expected to increase to 15 by 2020, meaning there may be more than 420 million in use across the country within three years.

Poorly-secured devices threaten individuals’ online security, privacy, safety, and could be exploited as part of large-scale cyber attacks. Recent high-profile breaches putting people’s data and security at risk include attacks on smart watches, CCTV cameras and children’s dolls.

Developed in collaboration with manufacturers, retailers and the National Cyber Security Centre, the Government’s Secure by Design review review lays out plans to embed security in the design process rather than bolt them on as an afterthought.

The Government will work with industry to implement a rigorous new Code Of Practice to improve the cyber security of consumer internet-connected devices and associated services while continuing to encourage innovation in new technologies.

Speaking ahead of a launch event at consumer champion Which? headquarters, Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said: “We want everyone to benefit from the huge potential of internet-connected devices and it is important they are safe and have a positive impact on people’s lives. We have worked alongside industry to develop a tough new set of rules so strong security measures are built into everyday technology from the moment it is developed.

“This will help ensure that we have the right rules and frameworks in place to protect individuals and that the UK continues to be a world-leading, innovation-friendly digital economy.

Dr Ian Levy, the NCSC’s Technical Director, said: “The NCSC is committed to ensuring the UK has the best security it can, and stop people being expected to make impossible safety judgements with no useful information.

“We are pleased to have worked with DCMS on this vital review, and hope its legacy will be a government ‘kitemark’ clearly explaining the security promises and effective lifespan of products.”

The Secure by Design report outlines practical steps for manufacturers, service providers and developers. This will encourage firms to make sure:

  • All passwords on new devices and products are unique and not resettable to a factory default, such as ‘admin’;
  • They have a vulnerability policy and public point of contact so security researchers and others can report issues immediately and they are quickly acted upon;
  • Sensitive data which is transmitted over apps or products is encrypted;
  • Software is automatically updated and there is clear guidance on updates to customers;
  • It is easy for consumers to delete personal data on devices and products;
  • Installation and maintenance of devices is easy.

Alongside these measures for ‘Internet of Things’ manufacturers, the report proposes developing a product labelling scheme so consumers are aware of a product’s security features at the point of purchase. The Government will work closely with retailers and consumer organisations to provide advice and support.

Alex Neill, Which? MD of Home Products and Services, said: “With connected devices becoming increasingly popular, it’s vital that consumers are not exposed to the risk of cyber-attacks through products that are left vulnerable through manufacturers’ poor design and production.

“Companies must ensure that the safety of their customers is the absolute priority when ‘smart’ products are designed. If strong security standards are not already in place when these products hit the shelves, then they should not be sold.”