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FTC announces IoT security challenge with $25,000 prize

Wed 4 Jan 2017

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a public challenge to develop a tool that can be used by consumers to protect their IoT-connected devices. The overall winner of the challenge will receive $25,000 in prize money, with $3,000 available for each recipient of an honorable mention.

The IoT Home Inspector Challenge, published in the Federal Register, was created to encourage the public to create a tool that can be distributed to consumers to help make IoT devices more secure. The tool could be a physical device, cloud-based, or an app that will, at minimum, protect consumers from vulnerabilities caused by out of date software.

Contestants are encouraged, however, to add features that might address other known security risks such as hard-coded or factory default passwords which have previously been exploited as IoT security vulnerabilities.

The contest is launched at least partially in response to highly publicized attacks centered on IoT devices, including the Mirai botnet attack last October, in which at least 100,000 IoT devices were mobilized by hackers to launch a DDoS attack on the servers for some of the web’s most popular sites, causing service outages and user delays. As the contest announcement reads, “This incident demonstrated that lax IoT device security can threaten not just device owners, but the entire internet.”

In response to repeated warnings regarding the vulnerabilities in smart home devices, the FTC has recommended that IoT device manufacturers take steps to address security vulnerabilities including building security into devices from the start, training employees in security best practices, increased vendor oversight, and managing access controls.

However, as company and industry-wide changes require lengthy time frames for implementation, the Home Inspector Challenge was created to provide consumers with a tool that can be used immediately to upgrade the security on existing IoT-connected devices.

A survey cited by the FTC notes that 40% of consumers are not at all confident that IoT devices are secure, and that 50% of consumers surveyed said that they had refrained from purchasing an IoT device due to cyber security concerns.

Creating a tool that can be used by consumers in the interim, until the industry catches up with security management, may boost consumer confidence in and sales of IoT devices overall.

Submissions for the IoT Home Inspector Challenge will be accepted until May 22, 2017 and winners will be announced in July.

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government hacking IoT news security U.S.
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