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Talking IoT Security at the White House

Last week, I was privileged to participate in an important national summit on IoT Security convened by Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies. 

Representatives from across the US government, industry, and academia were invited to the White House to discuss a National Consumer IoT Security Labeling program.   

In short, we were all there to solve the same problem: how do we raise awareness of the IoT security challenge among all consumers? Cisco appreciates the Biden administration’s efforts to drive better security into the consumer space given how interconnected our world is. We also underscored the importance of intelligent, intuitive networks in securely connecting the “things” being brought online daily—and in managing the billions of smart devices already in our homes and offices.  

Consumer devices—from televisions and cameras to drones and baby monitors—have become attack targets as we have embraced connectivity without necessarily following proper security measures. This has been demonstrated by attacks that access cameras within these smart devices. But this issue extends beyond attacks and includes breaches of privacy too. If improperly secured, capabilities intended to enable smart features and accessibility, or improve user experience, can be abused by hackers to steal identities, generate data breaches, facilitate device failure, or even serve as stepping-stones to broader attacks on critical infrastructure.   

A prominent example of how security flaws in consumer devices can lead to broader disruption was demonstrated by the Mirai botnet in 2016. What appeared initially as a targeted attack, quickly spread and caused global havoc. Fueled by compromised connected consumer devices—like cameras, DVRs and home routers—a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS) impacted its customers’ sites such as Twitter, Netflix, and CNN to name a few. Mirai highlighted how consumer devices connecting to the network can go beyond the walls of a consumer’s home to breach larger institutions and services—all the while being unknown to the consumer and without impact the devices’ functions. 

So how do we raise consumer awareness about these breaches? And how do we protect users and prevent these breaches in the future? The discussion at the White House focused on now best to effectuate the national program for IoT security labeling, which was required by President Biden’s executive order last May. Key stakeholders presented potentially promising new ideas for device certification, labels for secure devices, and ways to incentivize adoption of these standards. 

Though the focus was on consumer IoT devices, we also discussed the broader implications of the need to raise awareness among consumers about the devices they use at home and in the office. This is where the importance of visibility and network security becomes a strong protector: once these devices can be identified, the network can provide the right access controls (e.g., segmenting the network so that such devices do not infiltrate the main network). 

As the IoT market continues to evolve and mature, we look forward to working with the US government, policymakers, industry forums, and partners to drive open, standardized holistic IoT security and privacy practices. Accomplishing this will help more power a more secure, connected future for all.

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