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TWiTIoT: This Week in The Internet of Things – Malware in the Air, and Better Health with IoT?

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Greetings, and welcome. This week, evidence that commercial and military aircraft, ships, and satellites are vulnerable to IoT-borne malware attacks, and efforts to use IoT devices to make medical data more accessible. As always, your thoughts, reactions, and suggestions welcome. Just send a quick email to medortch@dortchonit.com. And for more on the IoT and IIoT, check out “DortchOnIT’s Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Weekly.” Thanks.

Four Years After Disclosure, Vulnerabilities Still Threaten Satellite Systems

What Happened: Researchers demonstrated that vulnerabilities they first disclosed in 2014 still threaten satellite communications systems used by commercial and military aircraft and ships.

  • As Help Net Security reported, researchers from IT services and cybersecurity provider IOActive in 2014 “revealed security vulnerabilities they found in the most widely deployed satellite communications [SATCOM] terminals.” At that time, the researchers also “presented potential scenarios attackers could exploit once SATCOM systems have been compromised in the aviation, maritime, and military sectors.”
  • Unfortunately, at this year’s Black Hat conference, IOActive researchers demonstrated that some of the scenarios from 2014 are still possible. “The many vulnerabilities found include backdoors, insecure protocols, and network misconfigurations.” And they could enable “attackers to take control of airborne SATCOM equipment on in-flight commercial aircrafts, earth stations on vessels and those used by the US military in conflict zones.”
  • The researchers “discovered IoT malware – the Mirai bot, to be exact – on a random vessel with equipment exposed to the Internet. The bot infected the Antenna Control Unit (ACU).” One researcher, while on a commercial flight, discovered a router had been enslaved by a botnet and was “’ performing brute-force attacks against [on-board] SATCOM modems.’”

What It Means: The combined challenges of timely software patch management and inadequate IoT device security are pervasive and persistent – and potentially catastrophic.

What You Should Do: Patch everything that can be patched as regularly as possible. Avoid connecting anything to your network that can’t be patched or updated as needed. Protect your most critical, private, and personal information with frequent, secure backups, so you can recover as quickly as possible from a successful cyber attack. (See “Patch Management: Why It Matters, Why It’s Likely Broken at Your Business, and What to Do Now” and “TWiTIoT: This Week in The Internet of Things – Every IoT Device A Security Risk?”)

IoT Devices Help Make Medical Data More Accessible

What Happened: A research lab is exploring how to harmonize and tame the voluminous health data generated by personal and medical IoT devices.

  • As Network World reported, “The Medical Device Interoperability Program, or MD PnP, in affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners Healthcare, is a hub for research into making medical devices dramatically smarter by making it simpler for them to share the data they gather.”
  • That data can be overwhelming, with “more and more people being monitored by IoT devices in hospitals and monitoring themselves with Fitbits and Apple watches.” “One challenge is to gather and analyze that data from disparate devices so it provides medical professionals with more complete information about the condition of their patients. Another is to make that process simpler for the IT staff that has to set up the systems.”
  • The data collection and integration challenges are many, as they are in any IT environment. But the stakes are even higher in healthcare. “There are too many device makers, too many technical hurdles, too many regulatory issues – and the penalty for getting something wrong is that people could die.”
  • MD PnP researchers believe sensors, software, and those IoT devices can be woven into “an open platform that can be used to seamlessly connect devices without a lot of integration work for IT staff or the expense of hiring outside contractors.” Such a platform could make “more advanced uses of medical technology more freely available to healthcare providers that might not otherwise be able to afford it.”

What It Means:Healthcare is evolving into a crucible for all that is promising and threatening about the growth of IoT devices and connections.

What You Should Do:Your business likely is either a direct participant in the healthcare industry, or a “reseller” and/or consumer of healthcare services. This means whatever your business, you should pay attention to developments such as these. They will very likely affect the range of available products and services, how those are delivered, how they are priced, or all of the above. Even if you have no stake in the healthcare market, if your business is pursuing or considering IoT deployments, you should also watch this space. Healthcare is a market where IoT security may be most critical to the most people. A successful breach could literally become a life-or-death situation.

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Michael Dortch

As an IT industry analyst, consultant, journalist, and marketer, Michael Dortch has been translating bits and bytes into dollars and sense for four decades. His areas of expertise include strategic content planning, development, and creation, core content execution, and social media and online community development and outreach. Michael has helped to launch new products, enable sales teams, influence influencers, and grow web site traffic, prospects, leads, and positive perceptions for companies large and small. He also enjoys cooking, eating, traveling, and singing.