Did you know that one of the largest “hack” attacks in internet history occurred in 2016 when signals generated by tens of thousands of baby monitors, webcams and like devices across America and Europe were hacked in a way that took down broad swaths of the web?
Yes, baby monitors. These simple internet-hooked devices lack the security of your PC or phone and make them vulnerable to attack. And there are no fewer than eight million of these devices in existence, according to editors at Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
A fellow named Louis Parks, who runs a small Connecticut company called SecureRF Corp., says he has the answer. His firm sells software aimed at safeguarding the IoT (Internet of Things) – in a really efficient fashion. So efficient in fact, that his software runs very clean on some pretty weak hardware. It’s all in the math, he says, which “allows us to work with smaller numbers and simpler processes.”
Apparently, it’s a lot of math. Most security relies on exchanges of public and private “keys,” those very large numbers that are used to generate shared secret codes that authenticate that you are who you say you are, and which encrypt modern-day communications.
It turns out that many smart devices (IoT things) are easy to hack because they “don’t have the battery life to handle powerful chips, and they struggle to use standard keys.” Instead, they rely on passwords that don’t secure traffic between themselves and the internet.
SecureRF’s software manages with its sophisticated underlying math to require calculation of only 8-bit number to provide secure encryption, versus the 256 digits required with standard software. The benefit, it says, is that its security software can then run 100 times faster – and on lower-power chips – than conventional software, all while using just half the memory. The result is the ability to run securely on far less security-sophisticated devices. Like baby monitors.
SecureRF has licensed its technology to others, like Intel and ARM. They’re focused less on the chip itself, and more on the communication between chips. They’ve quietly spent over ten years researching ways to defend various types of mobile communications and the devices that depend on them, including RFID and near-field communications. They shifted their attention to IoT devices in recent years and are counting on the fee paid by chip makers – starting at just a few cents per chip.
That’s an added layer of “protection” for baby monitors for which their creators likely never envisioned the need. And it’s all in the math.