What do Her Majesty the Queen and hoovers have in common?

Written by on February 17, 2017 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Technical Director Dr Ian Levy shows Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip a robot vacuum cleaner which could be vulnerable to cyber attack, at the official opening of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in London, Britain, February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Dominic Lipinski/Pool

You would be forgiven for wondering why Her Majesty the Queen would be interested in hoovers. It is not easy to visualise our monarch wielding the Dyson (although she most certainly does). Actually, the answer in this case is to do with security.

The Queen recently opened the National Cyber Security Centre, a public/private initiative aimed at educating people on cyber security issues, as well as collaborating on defences worthy of the realm. It comes under the auspices of the famous GCHQ (where Turing worked).

The hoover comes in because the highest levels of security personnel now understand that home appliances are, to hackers, simply gateways to networks. And, as such, particularly vulnerable.

As we have said before the problem lies in the fact that companies that make kettles and hoovers have never imagined that their appliances would need to be connected to anything except a power source. And while they may have a point, progress is sweeping them along.

A vulnerable gateway to home networks is extremely serious. So, it is encouraging that this is being taken seriously – at least in the UK – by people as senior as the Queen and her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond.

All we need is a few high profile hacks of home networks, and the dream of ‘controlling the home’ by the likes of Amazon, Apple will suffer a public and painful kick in the Hub.

The highest priority in this new era that, for the moment, we call the IoT, is security. It is no coincidence that Mirai botnet attacks are being vectored through consumer electronics. They are the weakest point, because manufacturers have no experience and never thought they would need any.

Part of the solution must also be to enforce a transition to IPv6. We have been discussing it at conferences for almost two decades and still any action to migrate is greeted with ill humour and a lack of grace. Take the ridiculous Carrier Grade NAT as practiced by BT (and others), where several houses share the same IP address, so that the ‘back’ of the router can become a public hotspot. You can easily imagine the moment in that meeting when the guy in charge of rolling out public WiFi went ‘Wait, I have a great idea….’. Hack one, hack many.

The good news is that public perception and education about security is now high on the agenda, and long may it stay there.

Occasionally we congratulate the UK in taking a lead.

This is one of those times.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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