Featured Article

Is the UK government’s new IoT cybersecurity bill fit for purpose?

Security experts find flaws with how the UK plans to secure IoT devices.


Image Credits: Getty Images

Internet of Things (IoT) devices — essentially, electronics like fitness trackers and smart lightbulbs that connect to the internet — are now part of everyday life for most.

However, cybersecurity remains a problem, and according to Kaspersky, it’s only getting worse: there were 1.5 billion breaches of IoT devices during the first six months of 2021 alone, according to the antivirus provider, almost double from 639 million for all of 2021. This is largely because security has long been an afterthought for the manufacturers of typically inexpensive devices that continue to ship with guessable or default passwords and insecure third-party components.

In an effort to try to improve the security credentials of consumer IoT devices, the U.K. government this week introduced the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure bill (PST) in Parliament, legislation that requires IoT manufacturers, importers, and distributors to meet certain cybersecurity standards.

The bill outlines three key areas of minimum security standards. The first is a ban on universal default passwords — such as “password” or “admin” — which are often preset in a device’s factory settings and are easily guessable. The second will require manufacturers to provide a public point of contact to make it simpler for anyone to report a security vulnerability. And, the third is that IoT manufacturers will also have to keep customers updated about the minimum amount of time a product will receive vital security updates.

Read more on TechCrunch

This new cybersecurity regime will be overseen by an as-yet-undesignated regulator, that will have the power to levy GDPR-style penalties; companies that fail to comply with PSTI could be fined £10 million or 4% of their annual revenue, as well as up to £20,000 a day in the case of an ongoing contravention.

On the face of it, the PSTI bill sounds like a step in the right direction, and the ban on default passwords especially has been widely commended by the cybersecurity industry as a “common sense” measure.

“Basic cyber hygiene, such as changing default passwords, can go a long way to improving the security for these types of devices, Rodolphe Harand, managing director at YesWeHack, tells TechCrunch. “With a new unique password needing to be provided by manufacturers, this will essentially offer an additional layer of protection.”

But others say the measures — particularly the ban on easy-to-guess passwords — haven’t been thought through, and could potentially create new opportunities for threat actors to exploit.

“Stopping default passwords is laudable, but if each device has a private password, then who is responsible for managing this?” said Matt Middleton-Leal, managing director at Qualys. “It’s common for end-users to forget their own passwords, so if the device needed repair, how would the specialist gain access? This is dangerous territory where manufacturers may have to provide super-user accounts or backdoor access.”

Middleton-Leal, along with others in the industry, are also concerned about the PSTI bill’s mandatory product vulnerability disclosure. While sensible in principle, since it ensures security researchers can contact the manufacturers privately to warn of flaws and bugs so they can be fixed — there’s nothing in the bill that requires bugs to be fixed before they are disclosed.

“If anything, this increases risk when the vulnerability becomes common knowledge, as bad actors then have a red flag to focus their efforts upon and find ways to exploit it,” Middleton-Leal added.

John Goodacre, director of UKRI’s Digital Security by Design, agrees that this mandate is flawed, telling TechCrunch: “The policy accepts that vulnerabilities can still exist in even the best-protected consumer technologies with security researchers regularly identifying security flaws in products. In today’s world, we can only continue to patch these vulnerabilities once they are found, putting a plaster over the wound once damage may have already been done. Further initiatives are needed for the technology to block such wounds from happening at the foundational level.”

The third key area outlined in the bill, which details how long devices will receive security updates, is also under fire for fears that it could encourage manufacturers to discount prices once a device nears end-of-life, which could incentivize consumers to buy devices that will soon be without security support.

Some believe the U.K. government isn’t acting fast enough. The bill — which does not consider vehicles, smart meters, medical devices, and desktop or laptop computers that connect to the internet — has given IoT manufacturers 12 months to change their working practices, which means that for the next year, many will continue to churn out inexpensive devices that might not adhere to the most basic of security standards.

“Manufacturers will likely continue to regard speed to market as a priority over device security, believing that this is the primary consideration for maintaining profits,” Kim Bromley, a senior cyber threat intelligence analyst at Digital Shadows, tells TechCrunch.

Bromley also believes that the U.K. will struggle to enforce these regulations against manufacturers based in mainland China (PRC). “Some PRC-based manufacturers release products that are cheaper than other products on the market, and therefore users will continue to buy products that may contain security flaws, or at the very least, do not comply with UK legislation,” said Bromley. “The new requirements will also place huge burdens on UK resellers that may use PRC manufactured products on their own; keeping pace with the requirements and changing working practices could prove difficult.”

The solution, however, remains unclear, though cybersecurity experts seem to universally agree that the U.K. government needs to be flexible in its approach to IoT security, and ensure it doesn’t fall into the common trap of looking only at the past and the present, instead of the future.

“Both attackers and, sadly, unscrupulous manufacturers and vendors, are endlessly creative,” says Amanda Finch, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec). “There will inevitably be new avenues of attack that circumvent the demands of the bill, and new vulnerabilities created by lazy manufacturers. As such, this bill has to be seen as one step in an endless process of review and refinement, rather than an end in itself.”

The past, present and future of IoT in physical security

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo