On Friday morning, you may have gone to your favorite site only to find it wasn’t working. Well, you weren’t the only one. Many internet users found themselves without access to major sites such as Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix. Hackers used everyday “smart” household items to help bring down these sites. How exactly did hackers take down so many big sites so easily? And how safe are you from having your smart devices compromised?
What is the Power of Internet of Things to Take Down the Internet
On Friday, unknown hackers targeted Dyn, a major Domain Name System, or DNS, service provider. DNS service providers translate URLs into numerical IP addresses for the servers that actually host sites, so your browser can actually connect to them. That one attack caused service to stop for sites such as Amazon, Amazon Web Services, Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, and PayPal. This left many businesses without the ability to access needed information of process payments, and many users upset about personal service issues with their favorite sites.
The scariest thing about the attack is that hackers used “Internet of Things” devices to do it. The Internet of Things is a term used to describe the inter-connectivity of everyday devices such as baby monitors, thermostats, Webcams, DVRs, and internet routers.
Hackers used an advanced malware called “Mirai” to hijack IoT devices and continuously launch junk traffic at a target until the site can no longer accommodate legitimate users. Basically, hackers overloaded Dyn servers, causing Dyn to no longer handle any actual users, which resulted in a massive internet outage where sites could not recognize visitors due to lack of IP address. According to Dyn’s Chief Strategy Officer, the attacks came from tens of millions of IP addresses, meaning millions of devices were hijacked to aid in toppling Dyn.
— Duncan Blues (@DuncanBlues42) October 21, 2016
Does this mean your IoT devices are under attack? What can you do to make sure your devices are safe from being hijacked?
In all honesty, not much. If a hacker is determined to hijack your device, s/he can. However, you can take precautions. The main thing is to password protect your devices. And not just with the default username and password. The Mirai botnet looks for certain IoT and smart home devices, especially those using default usernames and passwords, and turns them into bots to use in cyberattacks. By simply changing the login information from default to custom, your odds of not being attacked are significantly better. Chinese electronics company Hangzhou Xiongmai is recalling web cameras using its components that were identified as making up a good portion of the devices involved for having default passwords that were easy to guess, making it simpler for attackers to crack their logins.
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The aftermath of this attack (and another similar one earlier this year) may well end up being heightened security regulations by congress. However, until that time comes, use custom passwords and be careful when sharing information with sites, particularly on public networks.
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