IoT Security Breaches: Lessons Learned From the Frontlines

IoT Security Breaches

IoT Security Breaches: When you think about the Internet of Things (IoT), you probably imagine all the cool connected gadgets that make your life easier – maybe it’s your smart thermostat or voice assistant. But while these devices offer convenience, they also open up major security risks if not properly protected. As IoT adoption grows, so do opportunities for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and access sensitive data. You may not realize it, but your connected devices could already be compromised.

In this article, we’ll walk through real-world examples of IoT security breaches so you can understand the dangers and learn how to better safeguard your network. These cautionary tales highlight the importance of taking proactive measures to lock down IoT devices before the bad guys get in. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to IoT security.

Overview of IoT and Associated Security Risks

IoT Security Breaches

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things or IoT refers to the billions of connected devices and sensors in the world that are connected to the internet. These include everything from smart speakers to security cameras, smart TVs, and wearables. The IoT ecosystem is constantly growing, with new devices coming online every day.

Security Risks Posed by IoT Devices

With the rapid growth of IoT comes significant security risks. Many IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber attacks due to poor security practices. Hackers can gain access to unsecured IoT devices and use them to access sensitive data, launch DDoS attacks, or recruit the devices into botnets. Some of the major IoT security risks include:

  • Data breaches: Hackers can access sensitive data stored on or transmitted by IoT devices like security cameras, fitness trackers, and smart speakers. This data may include personal information, account credentials, and financial data.
  • DDoS attacks: Hackers can compromise thousands of vulnerable IoT devices and use them to overload websites and online services with traffic, disrupting access. The 2016 Mirai botnet attack that took down major websites was launched from hundreds of thousands of compromised IoT devices.
  • Ransomware attacks: Hackers can install ransomware on IoT devices and hold the devices for ransom until the owner pays up. They may threaten to delete or encrypt sensitive data on the devices if the ransom is not paid.
  • Surveillance: Hackers can access unsecured IoT security cameras and use them to spy on homes and businesses. There have been reports of hackers accessing baby monitors, security cameras, and other devices to watch and harass people.

To reduce IoT security risks, manufacturers need to prioritize security in the design of devices, users should change default passwords, update firmware regularly, and be cautious of what data they share with and store on IoT devices. Stronger security practices and collaboration across the IoT ecosystem are required to address this growing threat.

Major IoT Security Breaches in Recent Years

You’ve likely heard about some of the major IoT security breaches in recent years without even realizing it. As connected devices become more popular and widespread, the potential attack surface for hackers also expands.

The Mirai Botnet

In 2016, the Mirai botnet attack used a network of infected IoT devices like routers, security cameras, and DVRs to mount massive DDoS attacks against major websites. The botnet infected hundreds of thousands of vulnerable IoT devices by using their default login credentials. The attack disrupted major sites like Reddit, Netflix, and Twitter.

The WannaCry Ransomware Attack

The WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 infected over 200,000 computers across 150 countries, locking users out of their files unless they paid a ransom in Bitcoin. Though not initially targeting IoT devices, a variant of the malware was eventually able to infect some IoT systems. The attack exploited a vulnerability in outdated Windows operating systems to spread between devices.

The Triton Malware Attack

In 2017, the Triton malware specifically targeted critical infrastructure by infecting Schneider Electric’s Triconex safety instrumented systems. The attack was likely an attempt at industrial sabotage, aiming to manipulate equipment like nuclear and chemical plants. Triton exploited a zero-day vulnerability to spread between systems at an undisclosed site in the Middle East.

Data Breaches and Privacy Concerns

There have also been various data breaches and privacy leaks involving IoT devices. Hackers have accessed smart home devices like Nest Cameras, as well as personal information collected from fitness trackers. These incidents highlight the need for stronger security standards and data protection laws surrounding IoT technology.

With billions of connected devices coming online, IoT security needs to be a top priority. These sobering examples of real-world attacks and data breaches should serve as warnings about the vulnerabilities of IoT systems as well as the damage they can potentially inflict if left unsecured. By learning from past mistakes, we can work to build a safer and more secure foundation for the future of IoT.

Mirai Botnet: Turning IoT Devices Into Weapons

Targeting Vulnerable Devices

The Mirai Botnet attack in 2016 targeted internet-connected home devices like routers, security cameras, and DVRs. These IoT devices often have weak default passwords that are easy to guess, allowing hackers to gain access. Once inside the device, the malware turns it into a “bot” that can be controlled remotely. By infecting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable IoT devices, the attackers amassed an army of bots that launched massive DDoS attacks.

Taking Down Major Websites

With the Mirai botnet under their control, the hackers launched DDoS attacks that flooded targeted websites with so much traffic that they were knocked offline. Early victims included Krebs on Security, a major cybersecurity news site, and OVH, a large web hosting company. The attacks were some of the largest DDoS events ever recorded, using hundreds of thousands of infected IoT devices to generate and direct the traffic floods.

Exposing Critical Infrastructure Risks

The Mirai botnet highlighted the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like hospitals, power grids, and transportation networks. Many of these systems incorporate IoT devices and sensors that could potentially be compromised in a similar manner. Hackers gaining control of infrastructure IoT devices could disrupt operations or access sensitive data. In one alarming demonstration, white hat hackers used a Mirai-like botnet to briefly disrupt internet access across major U.S. cities.

The Mirai botnet attack provides a sobering example of the havoc that can result from insecure IoT devices. To mitigate these security risks, IoT manufacturers and owners must implement stronger default security, regularly patch firmware, change default passwords, and disable insecure ports and protocols. Continued vigilance and collaboration across organizations are needed to identify and address emerging IoT threats. By securing IoT systems and staying ahead of cybercriminals, we can help ensure that the benefits of connected technology outweigh the risks.

Medical Device Hacks Put Patients at Risk

IoT Security Breaches

Medical devices like insulin pumps, heart monitors and MRI scanners are increasingly connected to the Internet, hospital networks and each other. While connectivity provides benefits like remote monitoring and software updates, it also opens up new security risks if proper safeguards aren’t in place.

In 2015, researchers found security flaws in a popular brand of insulin pump that could allow hackers to remotely change insulin dosage levels. The researchers were able to gain unauthorized access and manipulate the insulin pump from up to 300 feet away using a $25 device. For diabetic patients, incorrect insulin levels could lead to dangerously high or low blood sugar levels.

In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled almost 500,000 pacemakers due to security vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to drain the battery or administer incorrect shocks. The pacemakers used wireless technology that lacked basic security protections, allowing unauthorized access from up to 20 feet away.

More recently, researchers found an MRI scanner that was accessible through a hospital’s network, allowing them to remotely view patient scans and manipulate the scanner. While the researchers had authorization to access the network, the lack of authentication or authorization for the MRI device poses privacy and safety risks.

These incidents highlight the fact that many medical devices were designed without cybersecurity in mind and are now playing catch-up to address vulnerabilities. The good news is device makers and healthcare organizations are working to improve security, but patients should also take precautions like asking about their devices’ security features and enabling available protections like two-factor authentication when possible. Staying vigilant about connected medical device security and demanding continued improvements will help ensure the health benefits of new technologies aren’t diminished by preventable risks.

Unsecured Smart Home Devices Lead to Privacy Invasions

Smart home devices like security cameras, smart locks, thermostats and voice assistants are increasingly popular, but unfortunately, many are not secure. Unsecured IoT devices can lead to privacy invasions and even physical harm.

Security Cameras

Smart security cameras monitor your home and property, but insecure cameras can allow unauthorized access to live and recorded footage. In 2016, a website exposed unsecured footage from 73,000 smart cameras. Criminals could monitor homes and stalk victims using this access. Secure your cameras by changing default passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and updating firmware regularly.

Smart Locks

Smart locks offer convenient keyless entry, but vulnerabilities allow hackers to unlock doors remotely. Researchers found security flaws in several smart lock models that allowed them to be unlocked from over 100 feet away. Lock your smart lock by using a strong, unique password, enabling additional authentication like fingerprint ID, and keeping its firmware up to date.

Voice Assistants

Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home listen for commands and can control smart home devices. However, attackers have used vulnerabilities to access unsecured assistants and obtain private information or harass victims. Protect your assistant by enabling two-factor authentication, using a complex password, reviewing connected skills and devices regularly, and keeping its software updated.

While IoT devices offer many benefits, it’s important to understand the potential security risks and take steps to lock down your connected tech. Enable strong, unique passwords, two-factor authentication when available, automatic software updates, and regularly review connected accounts and devices. Taking proactive measures will help reduce your risk of suffering an IoT security breach. The convenience of smart home tech need not come at the cost of your privacy and security.

Connected Cars Vulnerable to Remote Hacks and Surveillance

As more vehicles become connected to the Internet, cybersecurity experts warn that connected cars are vulnerable to hacks and surveillance. In 2015, security researchers demonstrated how they could remotely hack into a Jeep Cherokee and control its radio, air conditioning, windshield wipers, and even disable the transmission. This eye-opening hack showed how connected vehicles could be vulnerable to cyber attacks if automakers don’t take security seriously.

Hackers Can Access Critical Systems

Hackers accessing connected car systems pose risks beyond just controlling the radio. They could potentially gain control of critical components like brakes, steering, and acceleration. By hacking into a vehicle’s internal network, hackers could take control of a car’s accelerator and braking systems, endangering passengers. As vehicles become more automated and self-driving, these risks will only increase if cybersecurity is not made a priority.

Surveillance and Privacy Concerns

Connected cars also pose privacy and surveillance risks. Hackers could access a vehicle’s GPS, cameras, and microphones to track a driver’s location and activities. Personal information like contacts, messages, and browsing history synced to infotainment systems could also be accessed. Additionally, data collected by automakers and service providers from connected vehicles could be accessed by hackers if not properly secured.

To address these risks, automakers must make cybersecurity and data privacy a priority as they roll out new connected and self-driving vehicles. Implementing strong security controls, data encryption, and limiting access to critical systems can help reduce vulnerabilities. Data privacy policies should also clearly explain what information is being collected and how it’s being used and secured. As vehicles become more automated and reliant on connectivity, ensuring strong safeguards against hacks and surveillance will be crucial to gaining consumer trust in new automotive technologies.

Utility and Infrastructure Disruption via IoT Attacks

As more utilities and infrastructure adopt IoT devices, the risks of cyberattacks increase. In 2016, hackers took down the power grid in Ukraine, leaving over 200,000 people without electricity. The attackers were able to gain access to the utility’s network through an outdated IoT device and deploy malware that disrupted operations.

Power Grid Attacks

Attacks on power grids can have devastating consequences. In 2015, hackers breached an unidentified U.S. utility and gained access to the control system network. They could have disrupted power for up to 20,000 customers. As utilities modernize aging infrastructure with smart meters and sensors, they introduce more potential entry points for hackers. Properly securing these IoT devices is critical to avoiding power outages and service disruptions.

Water Treatment Facility Breaches

In 2021, a hacker breached a water treatment facility in Florida and attempted to increase the amount of lye in the water supply to dangerous levels. Fortunately, the changes were detected before the contaminated water entered the system. However, the attack highlighted vulnerabilities in the security of IoT devices used to monitor and control critical infrastructure. Without proper safeguards like strong passwords, data encryption, and employee training, these systems are susceptible to tampering by malicious actors.

Transportation Disruptions

In 2020, hackers breached an IoT system controlling toll booths in Florida, causing massive traffic jams that lasted for hours. The attackers were able to gain access through an open router and deploy ransomware that disrupted toll collection. As vehicles and infrastructure become more connected, similar attacks could lock travelers out of their cars, shut down traffic lights, or disable parts of public transit systems.

Protecting utilities and infrastructure from IoT attacks requires a multi-layered security approach. Device manufacturers and operators must prioritize security from the start and take a proactive stance in identifying and patching vulnerabilities. With lives and public services at stake, there is no room for error. Strong security protections, employee education, and contingency planning are essential to avoid chaos in the event of an attack.

Securing IoT Devices: Best Practices for Consumers and Companies

IoT Security Breaches

As an individual consumer or as a company utilizing IoT technology, securing your connected devices should be a top priority. IoT security breaches have become all too common, putting personal information, infrastructure, and even human lives at risk. By following some best practices, you can help prevent your IoT systems and gadgets from becoming easy targets.

For consumers, change default passwords immediately when setting up a new smart device. Use strong, unique passwords for each device. Enable two-factor authentication if available for your IoT accounts and Wi-Fi network. Keep devices up to date with the latest patches and firmware updates, which often contain security fixes. Be cautious of what personal information you enter into or share with your IoT devices.

For companies, conduct risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities in your IoT systems. Adopt a “security by design” approach by building protection measures into IoT solutions from the start. Isolate IoT networks from the rest of your infrastructure. Enforce access control and authentication to limit who can access devices and data.

Monitor connected devices continuously for signs of unauthorized access or attacks. By detecting threats early, damage can often be minimized or prevented. Educate employees on IoT security risks and best practices. Together, individuals and organizations can work to address the serious IoT security challenges facing us today through increased awareness, accountability, and action. While no system is 100% foolproof, following recommended security measures and staying on guard can help reduce the likelihood and impact of security breaches on both small and large scales.

The future of technology depends on building safer, more secure IoT systems and devices that protect rather than exploit our interconnected world. Overall, vigilance and proactive defense are key to limiting vulnerabilities that could have far-reaching consequences. By making IoT security a shared responsibility between companies and consumers, we have the power to demand and support better standards for how these emerging technologies are designed, deployed, and used in our daily lives.

Examples of IoT Security Breaches FAQs

As more and more IoT devices enter our homes and workplaces, the opportunities for security breaches increase exponentially. Hackers and cybercriminals are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities they can exploit in IoT systems. Unfortunately, there have already been several high-profile examples of IoT security breaches that compromised people’s privacy, finances, and even physical safety.

In 2016, the Mirai botnet attack targeted Internet routers and security cameras. Hackers scanned the Internet for IoT devices with weak default passwords and took control of hundreds of thousands of compromised devices to build a massive botnet. They then used the botnet to launch DDoS attacks, flooding websites and services with traffic to take them offline.

In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack affected over 200,000 computers across 150 countries. The ransomware spread by exploiting a vulnerability in Windows systems to encrypt files and demand ransom payments in cryptocurrency. While the attack primarily targeted Windows PCs and servers, it also impacted some IoT devices like smart displays, smartwatches, and smart home cameras that run Windows software.

The 2018 Exactis data breach exposed the personal information of over 300 million people in the U.S. and Canada, including data on medical conditions and political affiliations. The leaked data came from Exactis, a data marketing firm, and reportedly included information on IoT devices and fitness trackers used by individuals. The data had been stored unprotected on an open Amazon S3 storage bucket, allowing anyone to access and download it.

In 2019, a software update error caused a nationwide GPS rollover event in Japan that disrupted IoT devices and critical infrastructure. Many IoT systems with 32-bit time-keeping components were impacted when the timestamp reset from 9999 to 0. The event disabled IoT devices like smart meters, payment systems, telecom networks, and traffic control systems across Japan. The total damage and recovery costs were estimated to be well over $30 million.

These sobering examples highlight why IoT security must be a top priority. Device manufacturers, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play to help identify vulnerabilities, improve security practices, and protect sensitive data in an increasingly connected world. Strong security measures, risk management, and a shared commitment to privacy and safety can help reduce the threat of IoT attacks and breaches in the future.


The bottom line is that IoT security breaches can and do happen. As connected devices continue to proliferate, so do vulnerabilities. But with proper precautions, risks can be mitigated. Stay vigilant in applying security updates, use strong passwords, encrypt sensitive data, and leverage firewalls. We all have a part to play in being responsible stewards of these increasingly integrated technologies. The IoT revolution brings immense promise, if we remain thoughtful in how we secure and safeguard it. Together, through education and diligence, we can work to maximize benefits while minimizing risks. The future remains bright if we learn from missteps along the way.


The Internet of Things

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