Experts warn of dangers from smart gadgets

Health sensors, smart home appliances, even toys that connect to the Internet - the number of such Internet of Things (IoT) devices is expected to exceed that of smartphones next year, giving hackers more ways to spread infections.

The influx of IoT devices could potentially be used as a "zombie army" to spread malware, without users realising their gadgets have been compromised, experts at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum warned.

To combat this, today's schoolchildren should be trained in basic cyber hygiene, just as an earlier generation in Singapore were taught how to brush their teeth in school, said Singapore's defence cyber chief and Cyber Security Agency chief executive David Koh.

How to keep devices secure, the global nature of cyber crime and the emergent threat of cyber warfare were topics raised at a discussion moderated by senior technology correspondent Irene Tham.

Also on the panel were ISACA Singapore Chapter president John Lee and PwC Singapore partner for strategy Richard Skinner.

The ubiquity of IoT devices has prompted nations such as Germany to impose bans on children's smartwatches and Internet-linked dolls this year over spying concerns, as security in such devices is quite lax.

BORDERS NOT RESPECTED

Cyber doesn't respect borders. In fact, cyber criminals deliberately target the seams, the differences between borders, to get away with what they do.

CYBER SECURITY AGENCY CHIEF EXECUTIVE DAVID KOH

"Most IoT devices are consumer-driven, and so security is not built into them," said Mr Lee. But government intervention and regulation is not always the answer. "Regulations are only a stopgap measure until manufacturers make the devices safer by design," Mr Lee said.

That these devices can be exploited so easily also points to the global nature of cyber crime, where attacks can be launched from anywhere in the world.

"Cyber doesn't respect borders. In fact, cyber criminals deliberately target the seams, the differences between borders, to get away with what they do," said Mr Koh, adding that to take on such criminals, communication between governments and within regions is important.

This is why Singapore hosted the past two editions of the Asean Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity, which brought together cyber defence ministers from the region.

Businesses and their top management have to be familiar with cyber security, said Mr Koh, adding that it is no longer a backroom issue, but a "boardroom issue".

Mr Skinner said the enemies Singapore faces in the global cyber arena are widespread.

They fall into three groups: Those who do it for monetary gain, state-sponsored agents and those who stage cyber attacks "out of curiosity".

What is interesting about the last group is whether we can harness and bring them back to the workforce, he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Experts warn of dangers from smart gadgets'. Print Edition | Subscribe