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Senators introduce bill to improve cybersecurity of IoT devices

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), co-chairs of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-WA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the cybersecurity of Internet-connected devices.

mark warnerThe Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 would require that devices purchased by the U.S. government meet certain minimum security requirements.

Under the terms of the bill, vendors who supply the U.S. government with IoT devices would have to ensure that their devices are patchable, do not include hard-coded passwords that can’t be changed, and are free of known security vulnerabilities, among other basic requirements. The bill, drafted in consultation with technology and security experts from institutions such as the Atlantic Council and the Berklett Cybersecurity Project of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, also promotes security research by encouraging the adoption of coordinated vulnerability disclosure policies by federal contractors and providing legal protections to security researchers abiding by those policies.

The Internet-of-Things, the term used to describe the growing network of Internet-connected devices and sensors, is expected to include over 20 billion devices by 2020. While these devices and the data they collect and transmit present enormous benefits to consumers and industry, the relative insecurity of many devices presents enormous challenges. Sometimes shipped with factory-set, hardcoded passwords and oftentimes unable to be updated or patched, IoT devices can represent a weak point in a network’s security, leaving the rest of the network vulnerable to attack. Over the past year, IoT devices have been used by bad actors to launch devastating Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against particular websites, web-hosting servers, and internet infrastructure providers.

“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 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.”

“The Internet of Things (IoT) landscape continues to expand, with most experts expecting tens of billions of devices operating on our networks within the next several years,” said Sen. Gardner. “As these devices continue to transform our society and add countless new entry points into our networks, we need to make sure they are secure from malicious cyber-attacks. This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will ensure the federal government leads by example and purchases devices that meet basic requirements to prevent hackers from penetrating our government systems without halting the life-changing innovations that continue to develop in the IoT space. As co-chairs of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, Senator Warner and I are committed to advancing our nation’s cybersecurity defenses and this marks an important step in that direction.”

“I’ve long been making the case for reforms to the outdated and overly broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This bill is a bipartisan, common-sense step in the right direction. This bill is designed to let researchers look for critical vulnerabilities in devices purchased by the government without fear of prosecution or being dragged to court by an irritated company. Enacting this bill would also help stop botnets that take advantage of internet-connected devices that are currently ludicrously easy prey for criminals,” Sen. Wyden said.

“Information is a form of currency,” Sen. Daines stated. “We need to have to proper safeguards in place to ensure that our information is protected while still encouraging innovation.”

Specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 would:

  • Require vendors of Internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government ensure their devices are patchable, rely on industry standard protocols, do not use hard-coded passwords, and do not contain any known security vulnerabilities.
  • Direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop alternative network-level security requirements for devices with limited data processing and software functionality.
  • Direct the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate to issue guidelines regarding cybersecurity coordinated vulnerability disclosure policies to be required by contractors providing connected devices to the U.S. Government.
  • Exempt cybersecurity researchers engaging in good-faith research from liability under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when in engaged in research pursuant to adopted coordinated vulnerability disclosure guidelines.
  • Require each executive agency to inventory all Internet-connected devices in use by the agency.

The bill has endorsements from the Atlantic Council, the Berklett Cybersecurity Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Mozilla, Cloudflare, Neustar, the Niskanen Center, Symantec, TechFreedom, and VMware. For a full list of endorsements, and to read a one-pager on the bill, please click here.

“Internet-aware devices raise deep and novel security issues, with problems that could arise months or years after purchase, or spill over to people who aren’t the purchasers,” said Jonathan Zittrain, Co-Founder of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “This bill deftly uses the power of the Federal procurement market, rather than direct regulation, to encourage Internet-aware device makers to employ some basic security measures in their products. This will help everyone in the marketplace, including non-governmental purchasers and the vendors themselves, since they’ll be encouraged together to take steps to secure their products.”

“The proliferation of insecure Internet-connected devices presents an enormous security challenge,” said Bruce Schneier, Fellow and Lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “The risks are no longer solely about data; they affect flesh and steel. The market is not going to provide security on its own, because there is no incentive for buyers or sellers to act in anything but their self-interests. I applaud Senator Warner and his cosponsors for nudging the market in the right direction by establishing thorough, yet flexible, security requirements for connected devices purchased by the government. Additionally, I appreciate Senator Warner’s recognition of the critical role played by security researchers and the exemptions included in this legislation for good-faith security research.”

“We urgently need to start securing the internet of things, and starting with the government’s own devices is an important first step,” said Michelle Richardson, Deputy Director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project, Center for Democracy and Technology. “This legislation will push government devices to meet modern security standards, and ensure that researchers who act in good faith can independently verify the security of those devices. We hope that Congress will consider this proposal soon, and look forward to a discussion about the security of government systems, where the market for Internet of Things devices is headed, and how independent research can contribute.”

“Cloudflare applauds Senator Warner for his efforts to encourage security research and to use the government procurement process to make the U.S. Government a leader in addressing the risks posed by improperly secured IoT devices.  The worldwide internet outages caused last year by devices infected with the Mirai malware highlighted the need for more robust discussions about securing IoT devices. This bill should open an important dialogue on those issues, and Cloudflare looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Warner as the bill moves forward,” said Doug Kramer, General Counsel, Cloudflare Inc.

Sen. Warner wrote to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in July 2016 raising concerns about the security of children’s data collected by Internet-connected “Smart Toys.” In May 2017, the Senator wrote a follow-up letterto Acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen reiterating his concerns following comments by the Chairwoman that the risks of IoT devices are merely speculative. In response to the Senator’s concerns, the FTC issuedupdated guidance on protecting children’s personal data in connected toys. Immediately in wake of October’s devastating DDoS attack on the nation’s internet infrastructure by the Mirai botnet, Sen. Warner wrote the FCC, FTC, and NCCIC to raise concerns about the proliferation of botnets composed of insecure devices. Sen. Warner also wrote to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in May 2017 asking what steps the Federal Government had taken to defend against WannaCry ransomware.

Sen. Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former technology executive, is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus and a leader in Congress on security issues related to the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

Bill text is available here.

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