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Security

Device Security in the Internet of Things

Brian Scriber
Principal Architect, Security

Oct 27, 2016

As of the writing, some of the largest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks ever are actively disrupting major service and content providers. Many of the attacks are being reported as leveraging Internet of Things devices such as IP cameras. It’s interesting that these dramatic attacks are happening during Cybersecurity Awareness month.

How to Affect Change In Security

For many, IoT literally opens doors; for those of us in need of electronic assistance for key tasks, this is critical for daily living; with an estimated 20 billion devices online four years from now, it is a critical security requirement.  CableLabs is focused on specific goals in securing Internet of Things (IoT) devices for three specific reasons: 1) our desire to protect the privacy and security of our subscribers; 2) enabling trust in the technology automating the environment we live in; and 3) the need to protect the network infrastructure supporting subscriber services. Our technical teams are actively working toward solutions for handling both the heterogeneous security models of existing devices through advanced networking techniques and in future devices through guiding standards bodies and industry coalitions in security considerations.

Who is Looking out for Your Privacy?

Subscriber privacy goes beyond personal anonymity; it includes protecting information that can be used to identify people, or their devices.  Consider a mobile device, such as a Bluetooth fitness band, that broadcasts its unique identifier whenever requested (such as during any handshake to authenticate the device on various networks). That broadcast identifier could be used without the device owner’s knowledge to identify and track shoppers in a mall, protesters, or visitors at medical clinics among other concerns. Interestingly, network protection starts with device identity, and while many put this in opposition to the subscriber privacy, it does not need to be. Prior to onboarding devices into the network, which involves authentication and authorization as well as exchanging credentials and network configuration details, devices can provide temporary random identifier for new onboarding requests. After onboarding into a network, devices need an immutable, attestable, and unique identifier so that network operators can trace malicious behavior. Insecure devices that can evade identification, spoof their network address or misrepresent themselves, all while participating in botnets are a threat to everyone.  Being able to rapidly trace attacks back to offending devices allows operators to more effectively coordinate with device owners in surgically tracking down and quarantining these threats.

Security – Where, When and How

Subscriber security is different from privacy and looks to ensure availability, confidentiality, and integrity.  Availability is the key reason for the need for immutable identifiers within networks. When networked devices are subverted to participate in DDoS attacks, the ability to trace traffic to the corrupted devices is key. Encryption of data (in use, at rest, and in transit) is the primary means of assuring confidentiality. Since many IoT devices are constrained in processing power, it has become easy for manufacturers to overlook the need for confidentiality (data protection), arguing that the processing, storage and power costs for traditional PKI exceed device capabilities. Today, even disposable IoT devices are capable of using PKI thanks to Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC). ECC requires smaller keys and enables faster encryption than traditional methods have allowed – all while maintaining the same level of security assurances as traditional (RSA) cryptography. This allows not only for confidentiality, but can also be used to deliver integrity through non-repudiation (a device cannot deny it received a command/message) and message origin assurance (through signing or credential exchange).  However, good ECC curve selection is very important. A final element of security is the ability for these devices to securely update their operating system, firmware, drivers, and protocol stacks. No system is perfect, and when a potential vulnerability is discovered, updating those devices already deployed will be a key part of the success of the IoT and how we interact with these tools.

Forming Trust

These elements described above, availability, privacy, confidentiality, and integrity, all work together to develop trust. This trust comes from personal and shared experiences. The more positive security experiences consumers have with devices, the more trust is earned. Negative experiences deteriorate this trust, and this can happen disproportionally to events which built trust, and it often happens vicariously as opposed to personal experience.  For example, a subscriber who reads about a personal security camera that has been visible to others on the internet,  may forego the purchase of that, or similar, devices. The overall goal is to improve experiences for consumers both in future devices and to limit not only how many devices are compromised, but also limit the scope and impact of any individual vulnerability through leveraging multiple layers of defense.

Working Together Toward Network Protection

When IoT devices can be used en masse to leverage attacks targeting DNS servers, and when consumer market incentives don’t enforce security as a primary concern, industry standards bodies and consortia are typically called on to develop solutions . The Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) is the leading IoT influence group, with over 200 leading global manufacturers and software developers (Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, Electrolux, Microsoft and others) joining forces to ensure secure and interoperable IoT solutions. Other ecosystems are converging on OCF as well, and groups like UPnP, the AllSeen Alliance, and OneM2M have merged into the OCF organization. CableLabs and network operators including Comcast and Shaw are part of this movement, contributing code, technical security expertise, leadership, specifications, and time to make the Internet of Things safer for everyone. The Linux Foundation project, IoTivity, is being built as a platform to enable device manufacturers to more economically include security and interoperability in their products. OCF is driving toward support within IoT devices for subscriber privacy, security, and trust.

Standards organizations tend to focus on future devices, but helping manage existing devices is another area of research and exploration. The IoT security community is actively engaged not only on the future, but on the present, and how to improve consumer, manufacturer and operator experiences. A key tool to support existing IoT systems will be intermediating device/internet connections and providing bridges between ecosystems for interoperability to the ideas around using advanced networking techniques to help manage devices.

Convergence

These different needs, privacy, security, trust and network protection, all combine to create a positive perspective on the IoT environment.  Imagine devices which are highly available, trusted to do what they need to do, when they need to, for only whom they are intended to, and that communicate across networks securely, all while maintaining privacy. This is the focus of component and device manufacturers, network operators, integrators, academics, and practitioners alike.  The convergence we are seeing around standards and open source projects is great news for all of us.

Interested in learning more?  Join Brian and several others at the Inform[ED]™ Conference in New York, April 12, 2017.

Brian A. Scriber (@brianscriber), Principal Architect, Security, CableLabs is the Security Working Group Chair, Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) (@OpenConnOrg).

 

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