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The Coming IT Nightmare of Unpatchable Systems 240

snydeq (1272828) writes "Insecure by design and trusted by default, embedded systems present security concerns that could prove crippling if not addressed by fabricators, vendors, and customers alike, InfoWorld reports. Routers, smart refrigerators, in-pavement traffic-monitoring systems, or crop-monitoring drones — 'the trend toward systems and devices that, once deployed, stubbornly "keep on ticking" regardless of the wishes of those who deploy them is fast becoming an IT security nightmare made real, affecting everything from mom-and-pop shops to power stations. This unpatchable hell is a problem with many fathers, from recalcitrant vendors to customers wary of — or hostile to — change. But with the number and diversity of connected endpoints expected to skyrocket in the next decade, radical measures are fast becoming necessary to ensure that today's "smart" devices and embedded systems don't haunt us for years down the line.'"
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The Coming IT Nightmare of Unpatchable Systems

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  • Driverless cars... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by russbutton ( 675993 ) < minus caffeine> on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:12PM (#47149163) Homepage
    Wait until we have driverless cars on the road. But I'm sure they'll all be bullet-proof secure, don'tcha think?
  • by ZouPrime ( 460611 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:12PM (#47149165)

    The lesson wasn't learned, but the problem was somewhat mitigated. Big software companies adopted regular patch cycles and deployed patch management tools on their customers. It kinda worked because PC are powerful computers well designed to be upgraded and modified.

    This is not the case for many embedded systems. They are designed to be installed and then you forget about them. So the "classic" mitigation technique doesn't work. This is a big problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:14PM (#47149189)

    There are two lessons here: one, if you make something non-upgradeable it may have a bug that requires a fix; two, if you make something upgradeable some nefarious actor could exploit that and install something bad.

  • A systemic problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rijrunner ( 263757 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:31PM (#47149337)

    There are two bleeding edges. One is the leading edge of cutting technology.

    There other is the trailing edge where systems age out because they take a lot of effort to update.

    One way the trailing edge can not be updated because the overall system is designed to where there are critical parts that can not be monkeyed with in a low risk scenario. (This does happen).

    The other option on the trailing edge is where the systems are not worth the effort. Most of the Internet of Everything appliances really have zero income after the first few months and yet are expected to have a longer lifetime than many major IT infrastructure requirements.

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:33PM (#47149349) Journal

    They are designed to be installed and then you forget about them. So the "classic" mitigation technique doesn't work. This is a big problem.

    Hell, I thought the "classic" mitigation schemata for embedded devices was to not have them networked at all, leaving them to run for years (decades?) on end.
    (See also the hordes of NT Telecom PBXes out there which are likely still around, requiring a goofball proprietary connection to a computer running OS/2 (!?) in order to patch it (or more commonly, you did it to add new/licensed features or to fix something gone corrupt).)

    Therein lies the whole problem with the paradigm, truth be told - originally, embedded devices didn't communicate with jack shit - you unpacked it, turned it on, maybe configured it, and then you forget that it existed until it broke (at which time the vendor/contractor sent someone out to fix it), or got replaced.

    All that said, hell, we already have a testbed for this nightmare - an ocean of smartphones whose carriers and manufacturers ceased to give a crap whether their wares ever got upgraded.

  • by plover ( 150551 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:34PM (#47149375) Homepage Journal

    Probably not unless the user wants it fixed, and most don't. People have plenty of experiences with patches breaking new things, or taking away old functionality they had come to depend on. When someone tells me "this patch will solve all your problems", they usually aren't advertising the list of new problems they're creating for me. Anyone who plays iPhone app games knows that the patches sometimes come with game-stopping bugs; other patches have been known to suddenly add annoying advertising.

    Usually, I'm at a point of equilibrium where I am at least coping with the bugs in the devices surrounding me. If I know that the "mute button" on my GoogleTV box doesn't work unless I press it twice, I simply learn to press it twice; while I know it's a stupid workaround, it's one I can live with. What I might not be able to live with are the bugs that come with the next round of patches.

    Now, we make that experience hurdle even harder to scale: as a end user, I think security patches are worse than regular patches. The end user doesn't see a physical benefit from the patches, but knows he might suffer. What does he care if his thermostat or washing machine is sending spam around the world, as long as his house is warm and his clothes are clean? But if he installs the patches, he risks having a cold house or dirty clothes, or even advertisements streaming across his refrigerator's screen. It's just not worth the risk to patch them.

    And if you want to see a really risk-averse, don't-patch-me crowd, talk to the SCADA industrial control people. If you suggest you need to update the software running the sewage ejection pump, the city engineer is going to hand you an invoice for $20,000 and say "that covers my cost of testing your patch."

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @05:05PM (#47149663)

    The doomsayers were right. A great deal of effort went into patching and testing all critical systems before the year ticked over. There was no disaster because systematic action to avert it was taken well in advance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @05:09PM (#47149693)

    The doomsayers were wrong because we patched our systems.

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @05:16PM (#47149759) Journal

    Companies aren't "cheapskates", customers are.

    Here, I'll prove my point,. You can buy something for $15 today, and have it supported until tomorrow(or whenever) or you can pay $300 for the same exact thing, only support will go for a guaranteed 10 years.

    Guess what, the company didn't make the choice, you did. The company is just following the choice you've taken.

    The problem is solvable. Like Cellphones, it is cheaper and easier in the long run to simply buy a new one every 2 years than it is to buy one that will last you five. And in two years, sufficient advancement means that your old cell phone won't do all the neat cool things that all the new phones want to do, and you're gonna upgrade it anyway, so buy the cheaper one now, and upgrade in two years.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @06:01PM (#47150133) Homepage

    A deadline has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind. No deadline, less motivation.

  • by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @07:00PM (#47150587) Journal

    People shouldn't HAVE to pay for bug fixes. I sell you a product for $100 and I promise it does a, b, and c. However, sometimes it does c incorrectly. You'd demand that I fix it, no? But no, I'm a software developer so I just say, "Sorry, I don't have time for that, but here's my new version you can have for (another) $100!" What other industry gets away with this?

May all your PUSHes be POPped.