Are You Paying Attention to SOT and HOT?

Everyone in the cybersecurity space is very familiar with Information Technology (IT), but far fewer are as familiar with Operational Technology (OT) – software and hardware that focuses on control and management of physical devices like process controllers, lighting, access control systems, HVAC systems and the like.

However, cybersecurity professionals should familiarize themselves with OT because it is having an increasingly serious impact on their IT solutions and on their corporate data. Here are two of the several aspects of OT to consider:

Shadow OT (SOT)

Most of us are familiar with “Shadow IT” – individual users or departments employing their own mobile devices, mobile applications, cloud apps, laptops and other personally managed solutions to access corporate resources like email and databases. This phenomenon/scourge/blessing/reality has been with us for more than a decade and is generally well accepted by the IT community. But relatively new on the scene is “Shadow OT” – the use of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in the workplace. For example, some businesses will employ consumer-grade solutions like routers, security cameras and lights in a work environment, introducing a number of vulnerabilities that are more common in consumer-focused IoT solutions than they are in industrial-grade solutions. Because consumer-grade IoT products are developed by manufacturers who are under enormous price pressure and will sometimes employ temporarily contracted teams to create these devices, the consideration of security in the design process, not to mention the ability to upgrade and patch these devices, is not common.

Because consumer-focused IoT solutions often will have vulnerabilities, they can create enormous security holes when used in the workplace. For example, as discussed at Trend Micro’s Directions ’19 conference earlier this week in a session hosted by Bill Malik (@WilliamMalikTM), a New Jersey hospital installed Bluetooth-enabled monitoring pads in its 2,000 beds to detect patient movement and dampness that would signal a patient needing a nurse’s attention. Doing so makes sense – using technology like this frees nurses from the task of going room-to-room to check patients who needed no help, allowing nurses to spend more time on other, more critical tasks. And, they were able to implement the solution for about $120,000 instead of the $16 million that would have been required to use FDA-approved beds that offered the same functionality. But these consumer-oriented devices very likely have major security vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to access critical medical systems like insulin pumps and patient monitors, not to mention the hospital’s patient records that are valuable to bad actors.

Home OT (HOT)

Another important issue to consider is the use of OT in the home. Many employees work from home either occasionally or full time and they often do so in an environment populated by Internet-connected thermostats, baby monitors, game systems, voice-enabled home automation systems, security cameras, lights, alarm systems, wearables, refrigerators and the like. Here again, these often insecure solutions typically have numerous security vulnerabilities and access the home Wi-Fi network – the same one the employees use to connect their laptop and desktop computers to enterprise email and other corporate data sources. And, because all of these devices in the home connect through the same gateway, a bad actor’s access to one device exposes everything else on the network – including corporate devices – to unauthorized access and control.

The solutions to these issues won’t be easy. It’s tough to convince decision makers, as in the case of the hospital noted above, to spend 100+ times more on secure technology when they barely have the budget for what they can afford now. And it’s virtually impossible to require employees to disconnect the IoT devices in their homes while they’re working there. However, there are some things that can be done, such as using firewalls, monitoring solutions, VPNs and the like to make things more secure in the short term. Longer term security will require a change in design focus, as well as user education focused on being careful about using an ever-expanding array of OT devices, among other things.

What About Shadow IoT?

There has been so much talk about “Shadow IT” — employees using their own smartphones, tablets, cloud applications and mobile apps — and its impact on corporate IT that many don’t worry about it anymore. Many IT decision makers have simply acquiesced to the idea that employees will use their own devices, mobile apps and cloud applications, and so are finding ways to work within this new reality as opposed to fighting it. To be sure, Shadow IT has major implications for security, the ability to find and manage corporate data, the ability to satisfy compliance obligations and the like, but Shadow IT is here and it’s here to stay.

But what about “Shadow IoT”? There are a large number of personally owned IoT devices already accessing corporate networks, such as Apple Watches, Fitbits, Alexa/Google Home devices and the like. For example, an Apple Watch can be used to access corporate email and text messages, Fitbits send emails to wearers with their weekly status reports, and IBM has integrated Watson with Alexa/Google Home, to name just a few examples on the tip of this iceberg. Fueling this trend is growing corporate acceptance of the idea of integrating IoT with business processes — companies like Salesforce, Capital One, AETNA, SAP and SITA, among others, are embracing use of the Apple Watch and developing applications for it. Moreover, the use of wearable IoT devices can increase employee productivity — a Rackspace study found that productivity and job satisfaction both benefited from their use.

While personally managed IoT devices represent an enormous boon to their owners, they also can create a number of security risks. For example, researchers at the University of Edinburgh were able to circumvent the encryption that Fitbit uses to send data, leaving users vulnerable to theft of their personal information. In 2015, a Fortinet researcher discussed a proof-of-concept that could infect a Fitbit device with malicious code that could then send malware to a PC connected to the device (a claim that Fitbit denied). Researchers at Binghamton University found that sensors in wearable devices could be used to determine passwords and PINs with up to 90 percent accuracy. Apple Watches have been banned from cabinet meetings of UK government ministers over fears that the devices could be hacked and used to listen in on these meetings.

Does your organization have a policy to protect against Shadow IoT? What security measures have you implemented specifically to address this threat? I’d like to get your feedback on what your organization is doing for a future blog post.

Is BlackBerry Dead in the Water?

A blog post from yesterday asks the question, “Would you say that BlackBerry is pretty much dead in the water at this point or is there hope left for the struggling Canadian company?”

The question is a good one. In the first quarter of 2009, BlackBerry had  55.3 percent of the US smartphone market and 20.1 percent of the global smartphone OS market; as of the last quarter of 2016, BlackBerry’s share of global smartphone sales had fallen to 0.048 percent. The company’s revenues fell from a peak of $19.91 billion in FY2011 to $2.16 billion in FY2016. It’s operating income and net income have been in negative territory since FY2013. It’s stock price went from $138.87 on April 30, 2008 to $7.45 as of today. In September of last year, BlackBerry stopped making its own phones.

So, yes, a case can be made that BlackBerry is “dead in the water” or very nearly so.

However, I believe that 2017 and 2018 will see a modest resurgence of the company, albeit not to levels that we saw before the iPhone and Android devices began eating BlackBerrys for lunch. Here’s why:

  • BlackBerry isn’t really a smartphone company anymore, but is transforming itself into a software and cyber security company. If they’re successful in doing so, that will turn their 30-something margins into 70-something margins. The company’s financial results are at least hinting that margins are going in the right direction.
  • BlackBerry still has a very good security architecture for mobile devices, one that many decision makers should (and, I believe, will) seriously consider as mobile devices increasingly access sensitive corporate applications and data repositories. BlackBerry’s DTEK technology offers robust user control over privacy and that’s going to be important for many enterprise decision makers.
  • While BlackBerry’s market share in the US and many other markets is really, really poor, the company is still doing reasonably well in places like Indonesia and in some key verticals, such as financial services. For example, a major US bank is standardized on BlackBerry mobile technology, as is HSBC, among others.
  • BlackBerry is increasingly focused on markets that are quite far afield from its traditional phone business. For example, BlackBerry Radar is the company’s first IoT application and is designed for asset tracking, currently in use by a major Canadian trucking firm. BlackBerry QNX, a real-time operating system focused on the embedded systems market, is currently used in 60 million cars worldwide (and replaced Microsoft Sync at Ford). BlackBerry has some interesting and innovative solutions focused on addressing enterprise BYOD/C/A concerns.

The bottom line is that BlackBerry is nowhere near out of the woods, but is definitely showing signs of life. John Chen has done a good job at starting to turn the company around, there is promise in several of BlackBerry’s key markets, and the company has a decent base of working capital. I have some confidence that in a couple of years BlackBerry will see something of a resurgence.