Cyber crime and the weaponisation of IoT
2016 seems to have been the year of the IoT botnet. Currently, various organisations estimate that there are between six and 12 billion IoT devices out there, and this number is expected to grow beyond 20 billion by 2020.
IoT devices, by their very nature, have to be easy to deploy and use and this can mean they get very little consideration from their users when it comes to security. Fundamentally, IoT devices are small computers that in some cases are directly connected to the Internet without firewalls. How many of us would plug our laptop into the open Internet without any security enabled, or any patches installed on top of the original operating system and applications? Not many, but some people don’t think about IoT devices in the same way.
The sheer number of IoT devices now available, and their lack of security features, makes them an ideal target for attackers looking to build out botnets. IoT botnets are nothing new, they have been with us for a few years, but last year saw a massive increase in the recruitment of IoT devices by bad-actors around the world. And, we all know what happened next; large scale botnets were built and weaponised so that they could be used to launch DDoS attacks.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are attacks that target the availability of an Internet connected service, application or business. Last year IoT botnets were responsible for sustained 540Gbps attacks against organisations affiliated with an international sporting event in Brazil in August; attacks against security journalist Brian Krebs in September, which peaked at 620Gbps; and high-profile DDoS attacks against authoritative DNS provider Dyn in November. The Krebs and Dyn attacks both received significant media coverage due to their effectiveness and persistence. The large international sporting event did not because it was effectively dealt with by the service providers involved.
More devices means more attacks
The DDoS attacks from IoT botnets contributed to the strong growth in the scale, frequency and complexity of DDoS attacks last year. According to Arbor Networks’ most recent Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report peak DDoS attacks sizes have grown rapidly, with a CAGR of 68percent over the past five years. Average attack sizes also grew by 23percent just in 2016, and there was a big jump in the proportion of organisations seeing the most complex multi-vector attacks last year. As more organisations become dependent on Internet connectivity, data and application services for day-to-day business continuity DDoS represents a significant risk. This is being addressed by many businesses and the same study also shows that 66percent of enterprises are now factoring the DDoS threat into their business risk management processes, so that it gets the right focus.
Mitigating the IoT and DDoS threat
Even if all IoT vendors suddenly decided to harden their devices and implement proper security measures many devices would never be patched or upgraded. Going forward better security within IoT devices is a must, but businesses and individuals need to be protected from those that are out there today.
The first thing we should do is prevent our devices being leveraged by attackers. Individuals and businesses should implement best practice, segmenting their networks and putting appropriate access restrictions in place so that IoT devices can only communicate with relevant services and users. Default passwords should be changed and where possible the latest firmware updates installed to remove vulnerabilities. Monitoring should also be put in place so that unusual network activity can be identified and investigated quickly.
The above will ensure that our own devices are not a part of the current problem, but we should also ensure that we have the appropriate services and solutions in place to protect the availability of our Internet connectivity from DDoS attack. Layered protection, incorporating a network perimeter component and a cloud / service-provider based services is best-practice and can defeat DDoS attacks, maintaining connectivity and service availability – protecting business continuity.
Future of IoT devices
The use of IoT devices to launch DDoS attacks is nothing new, it is the scale of the problem now that has brought this to the mainstream. IoT devices need to be engineered with better security in mind, and purchasers of these devices need to insist on this. What we have seen thus far is one kind of threat from IoT – but there will be others. Malware that hunts for IoT devices inside our networks already exists, allowing a compromised PC to spread an infection onto IoT devices that may not be accessible from the Internet. We are just beginning to see the impact IoT will have on security.
By Darren Anstee, Chief Security Technologist at Arbor Networks
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”