Makers of smart devices including phones, speakers, cameras and doorbells will soon need to tell customers upfront how long a product will be guaranteed to receive vital security updates under ground breaking plans by the UK government to protect people from cyber attacks.
New figures commissioned by the government show almost half (49%) of UK residents have purchased at least one smart device since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. These everyday products – such as smart watches, TVs and cameras – offer a huge range of benefits, yet many remain vulnerable to cyber attacks.
Just one vulnerable device can put a user’s network at risk. In 2017, attackers infamously succeeded in stealing data from a North American casino via an internet-connected fish tank. In extreme cases hostile groups have taken advantage of poor security features to access people’s webcams.
Ban on default passwords
To counter this threat, the government is planning a new law to make sure virtually all smart devices meet new requirements. Customers must be informed at the point of sale the duration of time for which a smart device will receive security software updates. And there will be a ban on manufacturers using universal default passwords, such as ‘password’ or ‘admin’, that are often preset in a device’s factory settings and are easily guessable. Manufacturers will also be required to provide a public point of contact to make it simpler for anyone to report a vulnerability.
Smartphones are the latest product to be put in scope of the planned Secure By Design legislation, following a call for views on smart device cyber security the government has responded to today.
It comes after research from consumer group Which? found a third of people kept their last phone for four years, while some brands only offer security updates for a little over two years.
The government continues to urge people to follow NCSC guidance and change default passwords as well as regularly update apps and software to help protect their devices from cyber criminals.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Our phones and smart devices can be a gold mine for hackers looking to steal data, yet a great number still run older software with holes in their security systems. We are changing the law to ensure shoppers know how long products are supported with vital security updates before they buy and are making devices harder to break into by banning easily guessable default passwords. The reforms, backed by tech associations around the world, will torpedo the efforts of online criminals and boost our mission to build back safer from the pandemic.”
Crucial security updates
Security updates are a crucial tool for protecting people against cyber criminals trying to hack devices. Yet research from University College London found none of the 270 smart products it assessed displayed information setting out the length of time the device would receive security updates at the point of sale or in the accompanying product paperwork.
By forcing tech firms to be upfront about when devices will no longer be supported, the law will help prevent users from unwittingly leaving themselves open to cyber threats by using an older device whose security could be outdated.
Just one in five global manufacturers have a mechanism in place to allow security researchers – firms and individuals who find security flaws in devices – to report vulnerabilities.
These moves have been supported by important tech associations across the globe including the Internet of Secure Things (IoXT), whose members include some of the world’s biggest tech companies including Google, Amazon and Facebook.
Better consumer protection
Brad Ree, CTO of the Internet of Secure Things (IoXT) Alliance, said: “We applaud the UK government for taking this critical step to demand more from IoT device manufacturers and to better protect the consumers and businesses that use them. Requiring unique passwords, operating a vulnerability disclosure program, and informing consumers on the length of time products will be supported is a minimum that any manufacturer should provide. These are all included in the IoXt compliance programme and have been well received by manufacturers around the world.”
The new law builds upon world-leading work the government has already done to boost the security of smart devices, including publishing a code of practice for device manufacturers to boost the security of their products in 2018.
The government intends to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.