Devices owned by Augusta-area residents likely affected in recent cyber-attacks, says Unisys official

Unisys Chief Trust Officer Tom Patterson said that the recent attack on an internet domain service helped make the need for improved cybersecurity “real” to the masses.

The chance that Augusta metro area residents were involved in the cyberattack that "broke the internet" for a few hours last week is slim to none.

 

However, the same can't be said for the web-connected printers, cameras, routers and baby monitors that they keep in their homes.

Any such device could have been among the thousands of gadgets co-opted as "botnets" in the attack against New Hampshire-based domain name service provider Dyn – a digital assault that temporarily disrupted everything from Amazon and Netflix to Twitter and Zillow throughout large swaths of North America and Europe.

"The devices could have been absolutely anywhere," said Tom Patterson, the chief trust officer for Unisys's Augusta-based global cybersecurity operation. "Based on the law of averages, some were from this area."

The overwhelming of Dyn's security network Oct. 21 is what is known in the industry as a "distributed denial-of-service" attack, in which huge amounts of malicious traffic is directed at a network by hordes of computers known as botnets.

What made this attack unique is that the botnets were controlled by malware that co-opted "internet of things" devices, such as web-connected household appliances, home security cameras and climate control systems.

"Those are all computers, and they don't have very much security on them at all," Patterson said. "So what the bad guys figured out is how to turn those into an attacking botnet, and that's how they were able to overcome this very well-defended company."

Though Unisys rarely discusses its customers, Patterson acknowledged that Dyn is not a client. However, he added, Unisys and other cybersecurity companies work together through organizations called Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, or ISACs, which represent industries ranging from the financial services sector to transportation and utilities.

"The bad guys work together all the time, so it's really important the good guys work together as well," he said. "On the good-guy side, companies like Unisys are upping the game again, so this next level of attack won't be successful."

Because of its widespread disruption to some of the most popular internet addresses, Patterson says the Dyn attack has "really started to bring home" the importance of cybersecurity.

"When you can't get to Netflix, that's when it starts to become real to people," he said.

Aside from supporting the community's Fort Gordon Cyber District initiative - which seeks to leverage Fort Gordon's cybersecurity buildup into a robust private-sector industry – Patterson recommends area residents take extra precautions to secure all web-enabled devices.

Most, he said, come with either no password or simple default passwords that many consumers leave in place so they can simply "plug and play."

"Those are the ones that got co-opted into this botnet," he said.

Cyber-criminals don't waste time trying to break into devices with unique passwords, so the best thing consumers can do is to assign different passwords to each of their devices.

"I ask everyone no matter what brand you buy or no matter how innocuous you think this little thing is in your home, just change the default password," Patterson said. "It's not the be-all and end-all solution, but you'll be less likely to wonder whether your system was part of this attack that took down half the internet."

Related story: Second floor renovations for Unisys expected by month’s end

 

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