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- On Friday, Dartmouth College researchers announced a new five-year study to bring more privacy protection to the Internet of Things.
- Big tech companies will advise researchers from seven universities on how security can be built into “smart” devices, which are now in two-thirds of American homes.
- The study comes as IoT security issues extend to companies with remote workers, who allow malware into corporate networks via unsecured home devices.
- A key goal of the project is to require more privacy protections from companies, which now often simply ask for consumer consent to use their data in long-winded advisories.
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Dartmouth College researchers just announced a new five-year, federally-funded Internet of Things security project that enlists Amazon, Apple, Google, and other device makers to advise on privacy protections – including how the companies themselves can take more responsibility.
The Security and Privacy in the Lifecycle of IoT for Consumer Environments project, announced Friday and funded by a $10-million grant from the federal government’s National Science Foundation, comes at a time of heightened risk from the booming world of IoT devices, which now are found in an estimated 66% of US homes. In April, researchers at cybersecurity-rating company BitSight found that 45% of companies have been exposed to criminal malware that entered corporate networks from a remote worker’s home network, where smart devices and work computers are on the same wifi.
IBM, Samsung, Intel, Underwriters Laboratories, Consumer Reports, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Arm Research, and tech-focused law firm Saul Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr will also advise the research.
A key goal of the project is to make those companies more responsible for protecting consumer information, rather than limiting their role to dumping long-winded privacy disclaimers on consumers. Research leaders say they want to create “tools that move away from the failed ‘notice and consent’ model of privacy management – shifting the privacy burden away from end users, who are ill-equipped to manage an increase in the number of devices and decisions.”
That issue has been called out by other recent IoT research. Carnegie Mellon University dinged companies in February for dumping legally required privacy messages on users that are “often long, difficult to understand and don’t appear at opportune times.” In 2019, Stanford researchers found that “the weak security posture of many popular IoT devices has enabled attackers to launch record-breaking DDoS attacks, compromise local networks, and break into homes.”
The new project’s leader says tech companies can offer feedback and guidance that helps reshape cybersecurity in the world of IoT. “By working with a diverse group of leaders in the technology sector, we hope to influence the future of smart-home devices from design to disposal,” says David Kotz, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth, and the leader of the project. “This is a win for consumers and for companies who want to make more privacy-respectful choices but feel they cannot do so while remaining competitive in the current market.”
Other key goals of the project are to help consumers identify smart devices in their homes and to provide tools and best practices for management of the devices.
Kotz says an example of where the work will help consumers is how to handle the sale of a home containing many smart devices. “As you leave the home, you want to make sure you have fully disconnected from all the smart things in your home. Similarly, when the new owner walks into the house, she will want to know about every smart thing in the house and be sure that you are indeed disconnected from all those devices.”
The other colleges involved in research are the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Morgan State University, and Tufts University.
Nina Amla, the NSF director overseeing the project funding, said the agency’s “investments in foundational research will transform our capacity to secure personal privacy, financial assets, and national interests.”
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