Ready to Tool-up? IOT has become Weaponised

Assuming you’ve not been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about how tens of millions of websites went down in mid-October. Among these sites include Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit; even Playstation Network was down for a time. Unfortunately, the Internet of Things was the tool that made this attack possible.

So, how did this one attack affect so many different websites all at once, you ask? Well, because the attack wasn’t on a website at all but on Dyn, a DNS service. Think of it as an electronic phone book roughly the size of a building where, instead of phone numbers, we’ve got our web addresses stored there. When this phone book was bombarded by millions of queries through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, it crashed.

Now, any normal DDoS wouldn’t have done much to Dyn. They’ve got servers galore in countries across the globe. This wasn’t a normal attack though and they hit all the servers at once. Just a couple hours after the first attack, a second came, and then a third. Taking responsibility for these attacks was the well known group Anonymous alongside New World Hackers as retaliation for Ecuador taking internet access away from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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Where does the IoT come into all this? Well, there’s a malware out there called Mirai which searches the Internet for IoT devices still protected by their factory default usernames and passwords, which is most. Once the hackers had access to these devices, they set their sights on Dyn to ping it constantly for information with people none the wiser that their printers, cameras, or even baby monitors were being used in such a way.

Balance of Machine and Sensor

There’s a delicate balance in the Internet of Things (IoT) between machine and sensors. On the one hand, you have the practical application. Machines produce results. They have an action, whether it be to process your information and give you a train ticket, change from red to yellow to green on a timer, or to read this very article.

Sensors, on the other hand, are the eyes and ears of that machine. In the same way that we see, hear, taste, and feel, sensors gather data on their surroundings. Imagine trying to do something without any of your senses. Imagine an existence without sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing. Nearly lifeless, right? You’d still be able to do things, but you’d be severely crippled in your decision making process. In that same way that we rely on our senses to make decisions, machines rely on their sensors, and that is all the more true in the IoT.

Now, back to that balance I mentioned. Within the IoT, that balance is crucial. All the sensors in the world won’t mean a thing without a machine to process, analyse, and determine a course of action. It’d be raw data without anywhere to go. A bunch of ones and zeroes fed right into your trash bin. It’s a waste.

On that same line, the IoT would be rendered worthless without sensors. In fact, it simply wouldn’t exist. The best example I can give is a stoplight. Before the IoT, they worked on a timer. It was a good way to make crowded intersections work better, but I think you know that it’s not at all efficient. Add in some sensors to it, the car, the road, etc. and you’ve got a stoplight able to determine high and low traffic flow and adjust itself according to where the traffic is coming from and going to. In real time, the road would transmit data of a crash to likely detour routes of nearby streets, giving those lights a better, more efficient function as they update. Without sensors, you go back to a machine that is little more than a glorified light-up timepiece.

There is a third component I should add to this, equally as important but not quite as tangible — the Cloud. It’s what enables the IoT to work at all. The Cloud’s ability to transmit and interpret data in real time from one device to another is exactly what is required for multiple devices connected through each other.

I think you can start seeing how important this balance is now. The sensors gather the data, transmit it through the Cloud, where it’s put to an application by the machine. Any failing between sensor and machine and you’ve got an inefficient or potentially even broken device.