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Tech firms back plans to tighten cyber security

19 October 2018

LEADING TECHNOLOGY companies have backed new government measures to help manufacturers boost the security of internet-connected devices such as home alarm systems, fridges and toys.

There are expected to be more than 420 million internet connected devices in use across the UK within the next three years and poorly secured devices such as virtual assistants, toys and smartwatches can leave people exposed to security issues and even large scale cyber attacks.

To combat this, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) set out plans in a ‘Secure by Design’ review to embed security in the design process of new technology rather than bolt it on as an afterthought.

As a result, a new Code of Practice has been developed with industry to improve the cyber security of devices, encourage innovation in new technologies and keep consumers safe. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington said: "Our National Cyber Security Strategy sets out our ambitious proposals to defend our people, deter our adversaries and develop our capabilities to ensure the UK remains the safest place to live and do business online.

"Tech companies like HP Inc. and Centrica Hive Ltd are helping us put in place the building blocks we need to transform the UK’s cyber security. I am proud to say the UK is leading the way internationally with our new Code of Practice, to deliver consumer devices and associated services that are Secure by Design."

Minister for Digital Margot James commented: "From smartwatches to children’s toys, internet-connected devices have positively impacted our lives but it is crucial they have the best possible security to keep us safe from invasions of privacy or cyber attacks.

"The UK is taking the lead globally on product safety and shifting the burden away from consumers having to secure their devices. The pledges by HP Inc. and Centrica Hive Ltd are a welcome first step but it is vital other manufacturers follow their lead to ensure strong security measures are built into everyday technology from the moment it is designed."

Poorly secured devices can threaten individuals’ privacy, compromise their network security, their personal safety and could be exploited as part of large-scale cyber attacks. Recent high-profile breaches putting people’s data and security at risk include attacks on smart watches, CCTV cameras and childrens’ toys.

To make sure consumers are protected when using internet-connected devices and while manufacturers implement stronger security measures, Government and NCSC have worked closely with consumer groups and industry to develop guidance on smart devices in the home. The new Code of Practice outlines thirteen guidelines that manufacturers of consumer devices should implement into their product’s design to keep consumers safe.

This includes secure storage of personal data, regular software updates to make sure devices are protected against emerging security threats, no default passwords and making it easier for users to delete their personal data off the product. NCSC’s Technical Director Dr Ian Levy said: "With the amount of connected devices we all use expanding, this world-leading Code of Practice couldn’t come at a more important time.

"The NCSC is committed to empowering consumers to make informed decisions about security whether they’re buying a smartwatch, kettle or doll. We want retailers to only stock internet-connected devices that meet these principles, so that UK consumers can trust that the technology they bring into their homes will be properly supported throughout its lifetime."

The government has also published a mapping document to make it easier for other manufacturers to follow in HP Inc.’s and Centrica Hive’s footsteps. Further work is underway to develop regulation that will strengthen the security of internet-connected consumer products.

Implementing the Code of Practice can help organisations make sure that smart devices that process personal data are compliant with the stronger data protection laws which came into force in May. Failure to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) means firms could risk fines of up to £17 million or 4 percent of global turnover, for the most serious data breaches.

Centrica Hive chief technology officer Seb Chakrabort said: "Meeting the privacy and data protection expectations of our valued customers is a priority. We invest heavily in the security of our products and we are delighted to support Government in this global step forward, building strong security measures into devices at the point of design."

HP Inc. UK managing director George Brasher added: "Cyber-crime has become an industry and IoT ‘endpoint’ devices increasingly constitute the frontline of cybersecurity. At HP, we are reinventing the state of the art in device security to address modern threats.

"Today we design our commercial products with security built-in not bolted on, not only designed to protect, but also to detect and self-heal from cyber-attacks. We are delighted to be joining forces with the UK Government in our shared ambition to raise the bar broadly in consumer IoT device security, starting with the connected printers we are all used to at home."

Which? managing director of home products and services Alex Neill commented: "Which? tests many internet-connected products and has already improved security on devices in more than 1 million UK homes including TVs, voice-activated assistants, smart thermostats, and wireless routers.

"We welcome the Government taking a lead in tackling the growing issue of security in internet-connected products. Manufacturers of these smart devices must now show they are taking security seriously and sign up to the Code to better protect consumers who use their products every day."

Samsung director of IOT, MDE and SmartThings Teg Dosanjh said: "As a global leader in connected technology, Samsung understands that privacy and security are of great importance to consumer trust in connected devices. We build market-leading cyber security into all our products and warmly welcome the Government’s desire to make connected devices as safe and secure as possible. We will continue to work with Government to develop these proposals and ensure the transformative potential of the Internet of Things is delivered safely for everyone."

This initiative is a key part of the Government’s five-year, £1.9 billion National Cyber Security Strategy which is making the UK the most secure place in the world to live and do business online.