'Nobody cares about your heart-rate'

CrowdStrike's Mike Sentonas talks IoT security with El Reg

With CrowdStrike kicking off its Australian office, the company's freshly-minted VP of technology strategy, Michael Sentonas, took time out for a chat to Vulture South.

We started the discussion looking at security in the Internet of Things market, where Sentonas says “I look at it and say 'what a disaster'.”

The industry, he says, is hell-bent on “coming up with weird and wonderful ideas, and building it without expertise. Nobody's thinking about the security, and nobody's thinking about the life cycle.”

When you combine cheap products with a short life cycle, he explained, “the cost models don't exist to update them”.

On the other hand, he said, IoT security hype has the effect of directing attention in the wrong direction.

“The sky's not always falling, “ he said. “There's a lot of technology that's really useful and done really well.”

Since the IoT endpoints are already frequently too small and stupid to run security, he said, it will fall to the endpoints that act as the bridge between (for example) a sensor network and the Internet.

That fits with CrowdStrike's pitch, because even sophisticated endpoints are having trouble keeping up with how quickly new threats develop.

“Endpoints no longer have enough power to keep networks secure”, he said – and of course, there's a lot of hosts that are outside the network.

That's a good reason to move security into the cloud, going beyond the early approach of taking a physical product (like a firewall), virtualising it and running it in the cloud.

The kinds of things he has in mind, for example, is to run access control from the cloud, wherever possible; and use the cloud to make decisions about how a device is behaving.

Vulture South notes that it's a lot easier to make those decisions about (for example) a thermostat than for a PC.

Sentonas agreed that it's easy to know how a thermostat should be talking to the network, but expects that “we'll have more challenges with the control devices – the PC connecting the thermostat to the Internet is the thing an attacker will target”.

This, again, highlights the misdirection of “hack-of-the-day”-style Internet of Things security stories.

“Nobody cares if your treadmill says you hit a heart-rate of 150 bpm this morning.”

The real target is elsewhere: “The app has credentials, and those credentials are installed on an Android device with no security”, he explained.

That, rather than the treadmill, is where he reckons the company's cloud-based security pitch comes into play.

In general, he said, “the biggest thing people are looking for is to replace approaches that aren't working.”

The arms race of discovering malware and pushing out new signatures isn't enough, he says, and “indicators of compromise” are “just another way of talking about signatures.”

“You can't stop 100 per cent of breach attempts. There will always be situations where there's a silent failure, or where there's no malware used at all”.

Indicators of attack, rather than looking for malware, is how he says CrowdStrike is trying to deal with threats: “look for what the adversary is doing, rather than the tools they're using.” ®

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