This is how Microsoft is preventing hackers from hijacking IoT devices

Sam george microsoftMicrosoftMicrosoft Director of Azure IoT Sam George

Last week, a massive cyberattack knocked out many major websites across the internet, including Amazon, Netflix, Github, and Spotify.

Worse, it looks like the attack was carried out by unknown hackers using software called “Mirai,” or something like it, to hijack a bunch of unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices, mainly security cameras, and use their computing power to fuel the assault.

It was basically a worst-case scenario for the Internet of Things, right during a time of rapid growth across industries — there will be roughly 24 billion IoT devices connected to the internet by 2020, according to a BI Intelligence report, which says that businesses will be the top adopters of these new technologies. That’s up from 10 billion in 2015.

It’s that gap that Microsoft is trying to fill, with an announcement from the IoT World Congress in Barcelona of a new security auditing program for its IoT customers. We’ve seen what happens when IoT security fails; now Microsoft says it can help customers make sure they do it right.

“In general, we see a tremendous amount of customers wanting to do the right thing,” Microsoft Azure IoT Director Sam George tells Business Insider.

Security is key

George says Microsoft’s IoT customers have been asking one big question: “How can I know if the custom parts of my solution have been done correctly?”

IT deparments have streamlined, efficient, and proven methods for keeping PCs and smartphones up-to-date with the latest security patches. But for IoT devices, which can be anything from those troublesome security cameras all the way up to dairy cow trackers and jet engines, the proceses are less defined and the ultimate solutions can involve a hodge-podge of wildly different devices, introducing complexity and a wide world of possible security holes.

That’s why the security program for Azure IoT is so important, George says. It gives outside security firms a set of tools to scan and verify a customer’s entire IoT rig, making sure the underlying infrastructure is secure, and that each device is up to date with the latest fixes.

“Device management is one of those overlooked aspects of IoT,” George says. “You can’t really depend on something without a plan to update it.”

The goal, George says, is for a company to get a real look into how secure their IoT solution is (or isn’t), so they avoid cyberattacks by taking preventative measures.

The hub

Otherwise, George says, Microsoft is doubling down on its strategy of helping companies large and small adopt the IoT. A new Azure IoT device catalogue helps companies sort devices by what sensors they sport, which industry verticals they’re good for, and what protocols they use to talk to each other.

On the same track, Microsoft and Intel worked together for a new IoT Commercial Gateway Kit, which helps companies connect up smart devices — even older smart devices, before the modern IoT was underway — to the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.

Elon musk robotsjurvetson / FlickrElon Musk is suspicious of these factory robots.

George says Microsoft’s customers want to move to an IoT strategy to reap the business benefits of having a smarter and more connected business. But they want to worry about the business outcomes, not being a security expert or an infrastructure genius. This program is designed to help them get work done without worrying about the bad guys.

“It’s really a business revolution that’s being led by technology,” George says.

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