A forewarning of IOT chaos?

Learning from the Wanna Decryptor 2.0 ransomware attack

On Friday 12 May thousands of organizations in dozens of countries became the victims of a ransomware attack until the attack was halted by the registration of a nonsensical domain name.

Plenty has been, and is still being, written about this cyberattack. We won’t repeat the story and analysis here.

Instead, we’re interested in what this means for the Internet of Things (IOT) and the risk of a cyber Pearl Harbor (a phrase originally coined as “electronic Pearl Harbor” by Winn Schwartau, a cyber security specialist, in his testimony to the US Congress in June 1991).

Many devices that are, or will be, connected to the IOT are programmable yet less sophisticated than a personal computer operating system like Microsoft Windows. Being programmable, they will be susceptible to malware, yet being relatively unsophisticated they will be neither able to resist the malware nor able to host software that can do this on their behalf.

Consequently, this leads to the risk that millions, even billions, of devices will be vulnerable to a cyberattack. The attack might contain a ransomware payload – although with most devices possessing no display device one might wonder how the attacker will communicate demands to the victim. But the attack might also contain destructive malware analogous to the Stuxnet attack.

As the IOT grows and takes on a greater and greater share of responsibility for making things happen in the world, so the potential impact of a cyberattack grows in tandem.

We saw the devastating effect that yesterday’s attack had on the British health system. Imagine if it had been patient monitoring and supports systems, rather than record keeping systems, that had been impacted? How many lives might have been lost? A blend of yesterday’s attack and the Stuxnet attack would have been exactly this.

It’s a dangerous new world out there.

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