Security Experts:

Mozilla, Others Want Big Retailers to Pledge Minimum IoT Security

Eleven organizations are asking major retailers in the United States to stop selling Internet-connected devices that don’t meet minimum security and privacy requirements.

It’s estimated that the number of active Internet of Things (IoT) devices will reach 10 billion by 2020, but several incidents have shown that many such products can pose serious security and privacy risks, including for children. The CloudPets leak from 2017 and the EU’s recent recall of a children’s smartwatch are just two examples.

In an effort to avoid such problems, nearly a dozen privacy and security advocates on Thursday sent a letter to big U.S. retailers asking them to publicly endorse minimum security and privacy guidelines, and use these guidelines to vet the IoT devices they sell to customers.

The letter is addressed to Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon, and it was signed by Mozilla, the Internet Society, Consumers International, ColorOfChange, Open Media & Information Companies Initiative, Common Sense Media, Story of Stuff, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Consumer Federation of America, 18 Million Rising, and Hollaback.

The guidelines focus on five main requirements: using encryption for all network communications, on-by-default and automatic security updates, the use of strong passwords for remote authentication, a vulnerability management program maintained by the vendor, and the inclusion of a privacy policy.

“While many products can and should be expected to meet a high set of privacy and security standards, these minimum requirements are a strong start that every reputable consumer company must be expected to meet,” Mozilla said.

The use of encryption ensures that communications between the device and servers are protected against eavesdropping or unauthorized modifications. Automatic security updates help protect users against attacks exploiting known vulnerabilities.

The use of strong passwords and forcing users to change default passwords during the initial setup of the device is also good for protecting IoT products against attacks.

Vulnerability management is also important. Vendors should make it easy for researchers to report vulnerabilities found in their products, and they should have an internal process in place to handle these reports.

Finally, the privacy policy accompanying every product should be easily accessible and written so that it can be understood by the targeted customer category.

“At a minimum, users should be notified about substantive changes to the policy,” Mozilla said. “If data is being collected, transmitted or shared for marketing purposes, that should be clear to users and, in line with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), there should be a way to opt-out of such practices. Users should also have a way to delete their data and account. Additionally, like in GDPR, this should include a policy setting standard retention periods wherever possible.”

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.