Best Practices for Keeping Tabs on Your Apps

Stephen Nardone
Stephen Nardone

Let’s start this conversation out with the definition of device. The list of what constitutes one is growing. For now, let’s say that you have a home computer (desktop, laptop, or both), work computer (desktop, laptop, or both), home tablet, work tablet, personal smartphone, and work smartphone. This is a pretty extensive list of devices that an adversary could use to attack you professionally and personally. But what about your Amazon Alexa or gadgets, smart toys, and smart clocks? What about Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana? Do you also have a SmartTV? What about NEST, Wink, WeMo, SensorPush, Neurio, ecobee4, Philips Hue, Smart Lock, GarageMate? Hoo boy! The list of connected devices goes on and on.

Are all of these devices safe to use? Well, the simple answer is no—unless you specifically paid attention to its security. Also, for your smart devices that work via voice control, do you know who might be listening on the other end? To make things worse, many of these devices are also used in the corporate world, because they are easy to deploy, and are very affordable.

What about applications? Did the developer that created the application you are using ensure they used good secure coding techniques? Or is there a likelihood they introduced a flaw in their code? Are the servers for the application you are running in the cloud secure? Is the data you are storing on these cloud systems protected from unauthorized access?

All really good questions we rarely ask ourselves—at least before we use the latest and coolest applications available. We all make risk-based decisions every day, but do we ever ensure we have all the data before we make that risk-based decision?

What Can You Do?

Start by doing whatever homework and research you can. Make sure you understand the social engineering methods that the malicious actors are currently using. Unsolicited phone calls from a government agency (like the IRS), a public utility, or even Microsoft or Apple are not legitimate. No you don’t owe back taxes, no your computer has not been hacked, no you don’t need to give out sensitive personal information to your power company over the phone.

How Can You Choose Safe Applications?

Simply Google “Is this <name of application> secure?” Never install an application that you don’t feel you can trust. Using an application is all about risk management. Make sure you understand the potential risk to device and data compromise, prior to choosing to use it.

How Can You Better Secure Your Home Network?

  1. Upon installation of any device, immediately change the login and password. These are often stored in the configuration files that come with the product, therefore are easy to look up.
  2. Change the login and password on your home Wi-Fi router frequently.
  3. Ensure the software for anything that connects is up to date.
  4. Make sure you have a clear sense of where your sensitive data is stored—and how it is protected. Is it adequately protected—or, better yet, encrypted?
  5. When in doubt, don’t connect an IoT device to the Internet.

Lastly, look at some solutions that can be added to your home Wi-Fi network, that provide additional layers of protection and detection against IoT and other advanced attacks. F-Secure Sense Gadget is one such solution, as is Luma smart Wi-Fi router, Dojo, and CUJO. Dojo, for example, monitors all incoming and outgoing traffic and performs analysis looking for malicious traffic. With known weaknesses in IoT and home networks in general, solutions like the above are a good investment.

Don’t Give Hackers Easy Access

Not long ago, a casino in the Northeast had a fish tank in their lobby. To make management of the fish tank easier, they installed an IoT-enabled thermostatic control to set and monitor water temperature in the tank. The thermostatic control was connected to their internal network, as well as IoT-enabled to allow easy access from anywhere on the Internet. The device was breached from the Internet by malicious actors, and the internal network was penetrated, allowing the hackers to steal information from a high-roller database before devices monitoring the network were able to identify the unauthorized data leaving the network and shut it down. A classic case of what can happen without the right due diligence.

Try and follow this motto. Just because you can, does not mean you should. The latest shiny IT gadget that will make you seem cool, or potentially make some portion of your life easier to manage, should be evaluated thoroughly for security weaknesses, before you turn it on and open it up to the world. Make that good risk-based decision. Not many of us would consider doing this: “Hey Alexa, open up my desktop computer so that all my sensitive data is opened for all the world to see.” Or would we?

Stephen Nardone

Stephen Nardone, CISSP, is Director of Security Practice at Connection with over 38 years of experience in both the government side and the commercial side of the security business.

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