UK has had enough of rogue gadgets; wants IoT vendors to secure devices ‘by design’

The UK government has issued a report listing new guidelines for Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturers who plan to do business in the country. The administration wants Internet-connected products to be secured “by design,” shifting responsibility to the vendor and away from consumers.

The document, essentially a code of practice, is still just a draft. However, the government apparently plans to incorporate it into national legislation in the future. Manufacturers, service providers, application developers and retailers (called “stakeholders” in the document) are invited to send feedback by April 25.

The literature is dozens of pages long, but the gist of it is the UK wants IoT devices sold in the country to have security baked in before they even leave the factory floor.

“This Code of Practice is designed to improve the security of consumer IoT products and associated services. Many severe cyber security issues stem from poor security design and bad practice in products sold to consumers,” reads the paper.

Indeed, millions of smart devices out there are ridiculously easy to compromise for remote hackers. Some devices, like Internet-connected (smart) home appliances, can even pose a grave threat to the owner’s life.

First on the list of the UK government’s proposed best practices is to do away with default passwords.

“All IoT device passwords must be unique and not resettable to any universal factory default value. Many IoT devices are being sold with universal default usernames and passwords (such as ‘admin, admin’) which are expected to be changed by the consumer. This has been the source of many security issues in IoT and the practice needs to be eliminated.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Implement a vulnerability disclosure policy
  • Keep software on the devices updated with the latest patches at all times
  • Store credentials and security-sensitive data in a safe place, far away from hackers
  • Minimize exposed attack surfaces
  • Be extra careful with customers’ personal data
  • Make systems resilient to outages
  • Leverage telemetry to sniff out any potential security anomalies
  • Make installation and maintenance easy for customers
  • Make it easy for end users to delete personal data

Whether or not the Code eventually becomes law, IoT vendors selling devices in Europe will at least have to comply with the last bullet – let people delete their personal data at their own leisure.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect May 25, includes a very important article on end-user rights and privileges, including one called “the right to be forgotten.” Starting May this year, by law EU residents will be able to tell any data processor to erase their personal information from both private and public records.

Furthermore, the upcoming regulation includes an entire article on “data protection by design and by default.”

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