Cyber security for devices

Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Cybersecurity is Critical to Our Connected Future

by Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6) | 26 October 2020

by Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6) | 26 October 2020

Our lives, businesses, and the ways the Navy will operate and fight are being transformed by connected devices.

Movies like Live Free or Die Hard and The Italian Job illustrate the kind of havoc that could ensue if connected devices – in this case network connected traffic lights – are hacked. Security researchers have compromised traffic signals in the real world, proving that sometimes art does imitate life.

These “smart” devices are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) because they contain sensors, software, and other technology, and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet. Leveraging the IoT helps improve our quality of life using devices that can be programmed and monitored remotely, like home thermostats, smart light bulbs, and even automatic dog and cat feeders.

The IoT can and does provide advantages in business and the military. Maintenance and logistics leverage the IoT to reduce unscheduled maintenance and improve delivery times, respectively. The Air Force has applied similar principles to reduce unscheduled aircraft downtime by analyzing data from aircraft sensors and other sources.

So useful are these connected devices that experts predict there will be more than 21 billion of them by 2025. The next generation of cellular networks – 5G – which is up to 100 times faster than 4G, will be needed to move all the data generated by the IoT.

5G speeds will make it possible to perform medical procedures remotely, operate driverless cars and unmanned planes, and further automate industrial tasks. The Navy is exploring applications of 5G that will increase ship-to-shore pier connectivity, improve shipboard communications, and make warehousing more efficient.   

But it is important to remember that there are cybersecurity risks that could cloud the bright future promised by the marriage of 5G and the IoT. When these IoT devices connect to business networks, they give hackers a possible foothold for going after more lucrative targets, like the casino database that was compromised by hackers entering the network through an internet-connected fish tank thermometer. 

Hackers will continue to hijack IoT devices to shut down websites by flooding them with traffic. The additional billions of connected devices in the future could ratchet up the effectiveness of these attacks. Also, as we rely more on IoT to control physical devices, cyber-attacks could have more dangerous consequences than they do today. 

5G promises security improvements over previous generations of cellular technology but it is still unproven. IoT manufacturers and the telecommunications industry will largely be responsible for securing these two transformative technologies, but the government and standards-making bodies contribute too.   

You (indeed, ALL of us who connect to the internet) also have a role in securing our connected future.

Some of the steps for home cyber safety that were covered in the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month messaging for week 2 and 3 articles can protect your home IoT devices from being compromised.

  • Protect your router. The Wi-Fi router is the physical device that controls who or what connects to your home wireless network. Buy one with a firewall, and follow your router’s instructions for disabling remote administration so only you can make changes to it. Always change the default network name and password on the router. Configure your router so anyone who wants to join your wireless network will have to enter the password. Also, enable either WPA2 (or 3) encryption on the router.
  • Use security software. Use a firewall, spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your personal computer. Security software with these capabilities is free for DoD employees and authorized government contractors, https://storefront.disa.mil/kinetic/disa/service-catalog#/forms/antivirus-home-use. Also, protect your smartphone with security software.
  • Use strong passwords. Use strong and unique passwords for your router, devices connected to your network, and your accounts. Strong passwords are a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and are as long as possible. To make your password easier to remember, use a pass phrase.
  • Keep it current. Check the manufacturer’s website of your IoT device regularly for firmware updates.

Cybersecurity is critical to realizing the promise of our connected future. Do your part to keep us secure. Every day, at work and at home!

“As we pursue the connected future…we must place equivalent – if not greater – focus on the security of those connections, devices, and applications…This is not just a matter of the safety of network users, it is a matter of national security.”1

1 Wheeler, Tom and Simpson, David. “Why 5G requires new approaches to cybersecurity.” Brookings, 3 Sep 2019, brookings.edu/research/why-5g-requires-new-approaches-to-cybersecurity. Accessed 25 Sep 2020.

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