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IoT attacks could bring real-world damage

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Members of Congress received a dire warning this week about security vulnerabilities in the so-called internet of things (IoT), as cyber experts cautioned that with billions of new devices coming online, coordinated hacking attacks could become — literally — a matter of life and death.

House lawmakers convened the hearing on IoT security in response to last month’s distributed denial-of-service attack on the internet addressing provider Dyn, which resulted in temporary outages at popular sites like Twitter and Spotify.

But that incident, while a nuisance for Internet users and an embarrassment for the companies affected, might only be a prelude to far more serious attacks with potentially catastrophic consequences in the physical world, warns Bruce Schneier, a security expert and a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“This is more dangerous as our systems get more critical,” Schneier says. “The Dyn attack was benign — a couple of websites went down. IoT affects the world in a direct, physical manner — cars, appliances, thermostats, airplanes — there’s real risks to life and property.”

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