After cyber attacks, Internet of Things wrestles with making smart devices safer

Tue Nov 8, 2016 6:27am EST
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By Jeremy Wagstaff and J.R. Wu

SINGAPORE/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Recent cyber attacks harnessing everyday devices such as cameras, video recorders, printers, routers and speakers are a wake-up call to the hidden dangers of the Internet of Things.

The problem for the device makers, though, is that few are well equipped to tackle the unfamiliar task of foiling hackers.

For a sense of that challenge, take AV Tech Corp, a once proud giant among CCTV camera makers whose 1990s building in a Taipei suburb hints at the gap it must overcome between hardware factories of a decade ago and those of today.

AV Tech, which made the 2008 Forbes list of companies to watch, has seen competition from China shrink its profits to about a tenth of what they were then. Like its peers, AV Tech has moved its products online, connecting its cameras and the digital video recorders that store the footage on to the Internet so users can access them remotely. 

But such companies are not well schooled in cyber security, leaving these devices wide open to hackers.

"The harsh reality is that cyber security is not even on the radar of many manufacturers," said Trent Telford, CEO of Covata (CVT.AX: Quote), an internet security firm. "Security will eventually become more of a priority, but it may well be too late for this generation of IoT users."

Up to 30 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020 - all potentially vulnerable.

The danger was highlighted when hundreds of thousands of consumer devices were harnessed recently into so-called botnets, launching attacks on target websites, including PayPal PYPL.O, Spotify and Twitter (TWTR.N: Quote).   Continued...

A surveillance camera is seen in Taipei, Taiwan November 2, 2016. Picture taken November 2, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu