The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has filed a lawsuit against device manufacturer D-Link for allegedly deceiving the marketplace about the security of its products and, in turn, unfairly placing customer privacy at risk.
Taiwan-based manufacturers D-Link Corporation and D-Link Systems, Inc. (collectively, “D-Link”) design a variety of home network devices, such as routers, IP cameras, and baby monitors. Devices such as these are susceptible to hacking when they are connected to each other and to the internet (in what is often referred to as the “Internet of Things” or “IoT”), and weak security measures therefore pose a significant security concern. Judging from D-Link’s advertisements for its products, the company is certainly aware of these risks. D-Link boasted that its routers are safe locked from hackers thanks to “Advanced Network Security,” its baby monitors and cameras assure a “Secure Connection” to protect the livestream view of a sleeping child, and promises of an “easy” and “safe” network appear repeatedly during the set up process for a D-Link device with an online interface. As the FTC explains in its lawsuit, claims like those made by D-Link are not only misleading but also dangerous.
Despite an apparent awareness of consumers’ cybersecurity concerns, the FTC alleges that D-Link neglected to build common security measures into the devices it sells. The allegations are startling: mobile app credentials were stored unsecured in plain text on consumer devices; a private company key code was accidentally made viewable online for six months; hard-coded login credentials in camera software left video feeds vulnerable to unauthorized viewers. And that’s just the beginning. More details are listed in the FTC’s complaint filed in a U.S. District Court in California on January 5, 2017. These lapses, and D-Link’s deceptive advertising, prompted the FTC to charge the company with a violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. §45.
As of January 10th, D-Link has denied the allegations outlined in the complaint and has retained the Cause of Action Institute as counsel to defend against the action.
The growing IoT problem
In recent years, the FTC has tried to keep pace with mounting concerns over the IoT industry by filing a handful of complaints focused on consumer protection. For example, it went after the company TRENDnet after the firm’s faulty software allowed hundreds of personal security cameras to be hacked. It also filed an action against computer parts manufacturer ASUS after its cloud services were compromised and the personal information of thousands of consumers was posted online. These isolated mistakes add up; when millions of unsecured and seemingly innocuous Wi-Fi-enabled devices join the global network, they can serve as a massive launchpad for crippling cyber-attacks like the one that overwhelmed internet traffic operator Dyn and shut down several major websites in October 2016. The efforts of the FTC are aimed at mitigating such attacks and encouraging technology developers to invest effort and resources in order to secure their IoT devices before they hit the marketplace.
Search for solutions
Both the FTC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have released reports offering guidelines and technical standards for building reliable security into the framework of new systems and devices. As we wrote about recently, the Obama administration had also left the Trump administration an extensive report on cybersecurity recommendations. Achieving these standards will require a combination of regular agency enforcement and greater market demand for safe, secure devices. In the meantime, some digital vigilantes are working to stop cyber-attacks before they start. Netgear, for instance, has launched a “bug bounty program” offering cash rewards of $150-$15,000 for eager hackers to track and report security gaps in its devices, applications, and APIS. Indeed, incentivizing solutions rather than quietly overlooking mistakes, and searching for loopholes in our laws, will make a substantial difference in safeguarding the IoT landscape.