U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Wyden (D-WA), and Steve Daines (R-MT) have introduced the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017, a new bill that seeks to ensure that IoT devices sold to the U.S. government meet security requirements.
Companies have been quick to graft internet connections onto everything from refrigerators and stuffed animals to security cameras and thermostats, but when it comes to securing those devices, progress has been halting at best. Compromised IoT products have powered attacks that took down some of the world's largest websites, endangered the privacy of children, and potentially threatened national security.
This is a known problem, yet companies seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again. Consider IoT cameras: Vulnerabilities were discovered in Edimax cameras in November 2016, D-Link cameras in January, and Shenzhen Neo Electronics cameras just last month. Three different manufacturers working in the same IoT device category have failed to make sure their security cameras are, well, secure.
The same story has repeated itself across IoT device categories. The Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 is supposed to change that...for the federal government. The bill doesn't focus on consumer devices--instead, it's targeted squarely at manufacturers who want to sell IoT products to government agencies. Sen. Warner explained the bill's purpose in a press release about its introduction:
“While I’m tremendously excited about the innovation and productivity that Internet-of-Things devices will unleash, I have long been concerned that too many Internet-connected devices are being sold without appropriate safeguards and protections in place,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation would establish thorough, yet flexible, guidelines for Federal Government procurements [sic] of connected devices. My hope is that this legislation will remedy the obvious market failure that has occurred and encourage device manufacturers to compete on the security of their products.”
It's disappointing that this bill won't extend to consumer products, but the Senators are unlikely to stop there. Warner asked three agencies--the FTC, FCC, and DHS--to investigate IoT security in October 2016. At the time, he said he wanted "a range of expert opinions and meaningful action on new and improved tools to better protect American consumers, manufacturers, retailers, Internet sites and service providers."
Warner has also expressed concerns about how the insecurity of IoT devices affects consumers. We suspect the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017's focus on the federal government is a starting point, not the ultimate goal, for the Senators' push to secure the IoT. Even if it doesn't, the ramifications of insecure devices within the government could be worse than the dangers posed by consumer devices.
Representatives from Cloudflare, Mozilla, and other security companies and rights groups have all endorsed this bill. You can learn more about its requirements via this fact sheet; the full bill can be found here (opens in new tab). The bill will now have to make its way through the bureaucratic process.