A switch you can control from your smartphone can prove very useful while you’re away on vacation and suddenly realize you forgot to turn the lights off. Or on a busy day at work when you think you’ve left the iron plugged in.
However, not all IoT devices were created equal, especially from a security standpoint. Some ended up on the market prematurely, before proper security mechanisms were baked in. Let’s examine a random Wi-Fi switch and see how, under the right circumstances, it can become a point of entry to someone’s home.
But first, setup
An intelligent switch can turn plugged-in electronic devices on or off remotely, but it can also be misused to break into your home network, to capture unsecured data, plant malicious programs and steal account credentials to any of your accounts, if they are not properly protected.
A typical setup scenario requires the user to download a mobile app from Google Play or the Apple Store and, of course, plug it in.
During setup, the device creates its own temporary network (hotspot). The user opens the mobile app and selects the device’s hotspot from the list of identified networks. Once the mobile app connects to the hotspot, the user is asked to introduce the credentials of this home network, which the app transmits to the device. The smart plug then connects to the local network, the hotspot closes and the setup process is complete.
Real flaws and attacks
At a closer look, some devices display one or several vulnerabilities that can be exploited to infiltrate them and the whole network of the connected home. For instance:
1. During configuration, data – including the device ID and MAC address – is sometimes transmitted in plain text.
2. The communication between the device and the app passes unencrypted through the manufacturer’s servers.
3. The hotspot is poorly secured with a weak username and password and sometimes remains active after configuration.
4. The device comes pre-installed with a Telnet client carrying default credentials.
With some hacking skills and tools, an intruder can perform a basic brute-force attack to crack default access point credentials.
Or by using a secondary device, such as a router that generates its own hotspot, someone can mimic the original hotspot and intercept the data sent in clear by the mobile app. It’s a time-sensitive operation, but researchers have demonstrated it can be done.
On the other hand, if the device comes embedded with a poorly secured Telnet service, an attacker can break in to send malicious commands that stop, start or schedule the device.
Losing control over one product is bad enough, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen – your private information is at stake.
If attackers get hold of your Wi-Fi network, they can see what other devices are connected to your network and may try to control them, too. They can also find a way to install spyware or key loggers on your computers to grab the credentials of your online accounts… and then, havoc is bound to happen.
Appropriate security technology
Fortunately, a little research goes a long way. If you acknowledge that software and hardware are not perfect, read privacy policies before buying a sharp smart automation system and change default passwords when you set it up, you are already one step ahead of privacy intrusion. A home cyber-security provider can help you take the next step.
Bitdefender BOX is a hardware device that secures the network connecting all your gadgets – laptops, PCs, smartphones, smart thermostats, wireless video cameras, smart TVs — any smart object that can’t run antivirus software.
It inspects traffic to provide anti-phishing protection, malicious-website alerts, detection and quarantining of malware entering your systems or rogue users. Bitdefender BOX also protects mobile devices, Macs and other laptops that travel out of the home by installing its own virtual private network (VPN) software on client devices, which runs whenever a device connects to a Wi-Fi hotspot.