The rise in popularity of Internet-connected smart devices has brought about a new era of convenience and functionality for consumers. From Smart TVs and refrigerators to wireless speakers, these devices have transformed the way we live and communicate. However, this advancement in technology is not without its downsides. One of the most notable is the increasing vulnerability to cyber-attacks. In this article, we’ll explore what happened when hundreds of thousands of these devices were roped into an extensive Internet-of-Things (IoT) cyber attack, how it happened, and how you can protect your smart devices to stay safe.

A Brief Background

In what has been termed as the first widespread IoT cyber attack, security researchers discovered that over 100,000 smart home devices were manipulated to form a malicious network. This network, dubbed ‘ThingBot,’ was used to launch a massive phishing campaign, sending out approximately 750,000 spam emails over a two-week period.

The key players in this attack were the smart home appliances that many of us use every day. They range from Smart TVs and refrigerators to wireless speakers, all of which were connected to the internet. The attack signified two key developments: the rise of the IoT phenomenon and the substantial security threats posed by these increasingly connected devices.

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Internet-of-Things (IoT)

IoT refers to the growing trend of everyday devices becoming more connected to the web. This connection aims to bring added convenience and ease to our daily activities. It ranges from wearable devices like FitBit and Google Glass to smart TVs, thermostats, and computerized cars. While this trend is new and rapidly growing, its implications for security are significant.

The discovery of the IoT botnet in this attack demonstrates just how easily hackers can commandeer these connected smart devices. One would think that security software installed on PCs would provide adequate protection. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The new generation of connected appliances and wearables does not come with robust security measures. This deficiency is the reason why hackers were able to infect more than 100,000 home devices in a global attack, manipulating these devices to send out their malicious messages.

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The Implications for Users

Cybercriminals will continue to exploit the inherent insecurities in the IoT landscape. With the number of connected or “smart” devices projected to increase exponentially in the coming years (reaching an estimated 200 billion IoT devices by 2020). Here’s a list of those implications users can expect: 

  • Increased Phishing Threats: Users should be aware that phishing attacks are likely to rise in frequency and sophistication. They may receive deceptive emails or messages designed to trick them into revealing sensitive information or downloading malicious software, posing a significant threat to their personal data and privacy.
  • Device Vulnerabilities: Users should recognize that many IoT devices may have inherent security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities could be exploited by cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to these devices, potentially compromising the user’s privacy and security.
  • Botnet Formation: Cybercriminals may use unprotected IoT devices to create larger and more powerful botnets. These botnets can be used for various malicious purposes, including launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on websites or networks. Users may unknowingly contribute to these botnets if their devices are compromised.
  • Growing IoT Ecosystem: Users should be aware of the rapid growth of the IoT ecosystem, with an expected surge in the number of connected devices. This proliferation means that more devices are susceptible to attacks, making it crucial for users to stay vigilant and take steps to protect their IoT devices.
  • Privacy Concerns: Users need to be mindful of the potential invasion of their privacy through IoT devices. These devices often collect and transmit data, and users should carefully review privacy settings and terms of service to understand how their data is used and shared.

Preventive Measures to Secure Your IoT Devices

Prevention and precaution are the best defense against IoT cyber attacks. The first step is to secure your devices with a password. While it may seem simple and obvious, many consumers disregard this step, leaving their devices vulnerable to attacks. Using unique, complex passwords and frequently updating them can help to safeguard against hacking attempts. Furthermore, consider employing two-step verification for devices that offer this feature for additional security.

One must not forget the importance of software updates. Internet-connected devices such as smart TVs and gaming consoles often come with software that needs regular updating. Manufacturers typically release these updates to patch known security vulnerabilities. Hence, whenever there’s an update, it’s wise to install it promptly. It’s also crucial to exercise caution while browsing the internet on these devices. Avoid clicking links from unknown senders and do not fall for deals that appear too good to be true, as these are common phishing tactics.

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Do Your Due Diligence and Protect Mobile Devices

Before purchasing any IoT device, perform thorough research on the product and the manufacturer. Investigate the company’s security policies and understand the ease with which the product can be updated. In case of any doubts about the security of the device, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturer for clarification. Remember, your security is paramount and deserves this level of attention.

Lastly, it’s vital to protect your mobile devices. Most IoT devices are controlled via smartphones and tablets, making them potential targets for hackers. Ensuring that these devices are secured helps to protect your IoT devices from being compromised. Services like McAfee LiveSafe™ offer comprehensive mobile security that provides real-time protection against mobile viruses, spam, and more, which significantly reduces the chances of a security breach.

McAfee Pro Tip: McAfee LiveSafe doesn’t just protect against mobile viruses. You can safeguard an unlimited number of your personal devices throughout the entire duration of your subscription. So, be sure to connect all your devices for optimal security. 

Final Thoughts

As technology advances and the Internet-of-Things continues to expand, the security challenges associated with it will persist. The first global IoT cyber attack served as a wakeup call for both consumers and manufacturers about the potential security threats that come with the convenience of smart devices. It is essential for individual users to take proactive steps to secure their devices and for manufacturers to continually improve the security features of their products. By working together, we can enjoy the benefits of IoT without compromising our security. And by investing in reliable cybersecurity solutions like McAfee+, Total Protection, and Live Safe, you can enhance your defense against potential attacks and enjoy the benefits of IoT with greater peace of mind.


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