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'Internet of Things' allows new terrorism threats, experts say

LAS VEGAS -- Increased Internet connectivity among cars, appliances, major infrastructure and everyday devices has opened the door to new threats of digital terrorism, say experts at the international digital security conference Black Hat.

     The conference opened here with a bang Wednesday. Famed U.S. computer hacker Colby Moore demonstrated a technology that can falsify and jam satellite data from aboard an airplane. The device, Moore said, can be built quickly and easily from readily available parts for a mere $1,000.

     Also, a research team including security experts at U.S. companies exposed major weaknesses in control systems for power plants and factories. The vulnerabilities stem from a flaw in encryption software used in communications devices made by Siemens, General Electric and other leading companies. The same devices are used in home security systems and port facilities, creating the possibility of a widespread security threat.

     Internet-enabled remote terrorism came into the public eye in 2010 after a cyberattack brought Iranian nuclear facilities to a grinding halt. Another attack in 2014 caused a furnace to explode at a German steel mill. Consumers became even more aware of the potential for digital threats in July, when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recalled 1.4 million cars to patch a security flaw that could expose vehicles to remote access.

     Businesses worldwide are turning to the so-called Internet of Things -- digital links among a multitude of consumer products and industrial components -- to boost production and improve service. Some estimate as many as 50 billion devices could come online by 2020. But security measures have not kept up with the rate of development. Most electronics makers lack adequate security expertise, said Eva Chen, CEO of digital security company Trend Micro.

     Jennifer Granick, an expert in digital security law at Stanford University and keynote speaker at Black Hat, called for each industry to establish security standards to raise awareness of the problem.

     Such efforts are underway in Japan. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry opened a research center in 2012 to investigate security standards for core infrastructure. Hitachi and other major electronics makers began work this year to set industry-wide standards for security on Internet-connected devices.

     Attempted cyberattacks on Japanese power plants and other core infrastructure numbered 1,257 in fiscal 2014, the country's Information-technology Promotion Agency said, rocketing 200% on the year. Such a steep rise indicates that Japan is becoming a popular target. Rising digital threats force companies to be on guard at every stage of product and service development.

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