IoT Security at home

What is the state of your IoT (Internet of Things)-security in your home? Do you have any gadgets on your network that are vulnerable to exploitation? Maybe you have any devices you do not recognize? If you own an IoT-device then you should be curious about how it talks to the Internet and how security is taken care of.

5 min read


By Ole Reidar Holm


December 16, 2020

We've all heard the horror stories. Whether it's hacked baby monitors or talking toys, consumers and developers seem to agree on one thing; don’t trust your IoT-devices. This article tries to explain common security flaws with IoT-devices and includes a comprehensive "do-it-yourself" guide on how you can minimize the security threat.

Before we dive into the guide, what is an IoT-device and what security concerns should we be aware of?

IoT-devices in your home

The Internet of things promises us connected devices in your home talking to each other and the Internet. The connectivity enables your printer, fridge, vacuum cleaning robot or floor-heaters to be automated while you are on-the-go and not at home. Maybe even more efficient home-management. But should we put our trust into the vendor of our IoT coffe-machine that they won't leak our data, won't get hacked and has privacy and GDPR as their core focus? What priorities do these vendors have and how does that affect us?

Security concerns

Default / Weak passwords

"Box fresh" devices often have a default password. If your device has a weak or easy to guess password then it will be susceptible to guessing attacks. Default passwords are easily obtained from the Internet

Missing security updates

IoT-devices are often built on pre-existing technologies such as the Linux operating system or using HTTP services such as Apache or NGINX. Over time, flaws are discovered in all software products which should be addressed. Failure to update against known vulnerabilities in supporting software will increase the chances of a remote attacker being able to compromise the device.

Insecure web administration

Some devices offer some form of web application to provision and administer the device. These interfaces are vulnerable to the same risks as enterprise applications or Internet sites.

Use of insecure protocols

An insecure protocol includes (but is not limited to): ftp, telnet, http or SNMP. The protocol is said to be insecure if it employs no transport layer encryption or has known security weaknesses. Those listed all fall into the first category.

It is common to offer administration functions over most of the listed protocols. The impact of using insecure protocols is that an attacker on the same network would be able to conduct a man-in-the-middle (MiTM) exploitation to compromise the device.

Bad configuration

All networked services are potential avenues for an attacker to target your device. A vulnerability assessment of these networked services would uncover known flaws. Most likely your device is powered by an embedded operating system. To gain defence in depth review the operating system for configuration weaknesses such as: processes with elevated privileges, file permissions etc.

Insecure data storage

If your device can store data locally then you need to be aware of the risks of doing so. Are your controls robust enough to prevent trivial retrieval of sensitive information? Do you use some form of encryption to protect data while the device is powered off?

"Do-it-yourself" security checklist

Change default passwords:

Refer to the manual, do an online search, or contact the manufacturer for advice.

Check for firmware and system updates:

Even a brand new device could need a security update. Refer to the manual, do an online search, or contact the manufacturer for advice.

Apply updates regularly:

Manufacturers patch bugs and flaws on an ongoing basis – and so should you.Sign up for automatic updates or software update alerts when possible.

Set up a guest WiFi network for IoT-devices to connect to:

Isolate your IoT-devices from your home computers to reduce risk to important data. If you need advice, start with an online search for your WiFi router model. Many devices make it easy to set up a guest network.

Disable Universal Plug-and-Play (UPnP) functionality:

Some IoT-devices can leave your home firewall vulnerable to attack via UPnP. Unless you specifically need it for an IoT-device, turn off UPnP. An online search can help you find advice for your specific model.

Google {name of the device} + CVE:

You should see if there exists one or more Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) for your device. If there is, see if the manufacturer of your device has patched the CVE in one of the software updates, or consider sending them an email letting them know. If the CVE is serious, you should consider turning your IoT off until there is a fix available.

Check for open ports:

First obtain the IP-address of your device. This can be done by looking for "connected devices" on your router or do a network scan with nmap.

Does your device expose any ports?

What does that port do? (google port + {port number})

Can you connect to your device through the port? For example through your web browser, ftp client, ssh?

Example of a generic scan for performing host discovery on your subnet:

nmap -sP

Secondly do a full service scan on your device. Grab a cup of coffee, this usually takes some time.

Example of a specific scan to find printer's open ports on your subnet:

nmap -p 515,9100 -oG - | grep open