It may sound surprising, but hackers are just as interested in compromising ordinary office devices like printers, routers and Internet-powered phones as they are your laptops and mobiles.

Reports this month suggest that aging networking protocols used by nearly every Internet-connected device are being increasingly abused by hackers to conduct what are called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

 

Anatomy of a DDoS attack

Put simply, a DDoS attack is capable of being targeted at any device that has some level of Internet connectivity – and at that means an increasing amount of all types of office hardware. These often quite basic machines are often referred to as “IP-based” devices where IP stands for Internet Protocol.  The DDoS attack exploits what are unfortunately the inherent vulnerabilities that must exist if we want to be able to work with standardized open network protocols across the web.

In today’s world of Internet-connected “smart” devices, we now know that printers, routers, CCTV units, electricity meters, digital TV recorders and even refrigerators are being routinely hooked up to the Internet to allow users to manage them remotely.  As more and more everyday appliances become IP-enabled, they help create what we call the “Internet of things” and these devices have become prime candidates for hackers, activists and blackmailers who seek to compromise their power and turn them into botnets or similar malicious platforms used for distributing attacks. Distributing attacks via unmanned smart devices makes it more difficult to trace the source and it is easier to overwhelm the target.

From a small business perspective DDoS attacks can manifest themselves upon printers, routers, hubs, cameras, sensors and any other network-connected device. In terms of form and function, the DDoS attack sees the device “coopted” or placed under co-operational control so that some other party suddenly has access to it.

It is an inconvenient truth is that if we want to live in a world that uses the open doors and passageways of the Internet to make life easier, there will always be a certain amount of people out there who wish to exploit it for the wrong reasons.

 

Managing it is not rocket science

As the owner-manager of a small business a little knowledge can go a long way here. You do not need a working knowledge of network protocols, just being aware of the danger is half the battle. By at least knowing that your networked hardware is at risk, you can ask your security vendor, consultant or service engineer what to do about it.

Also be aware that no business is too small.  If you have a couple of office desktops or laptops, a router-driven Internet connection and a few mobile devices to plug in, then you are well within the sights of DDoS. The best way to protect yourself from attack is to identify all of the devices accessible on your network, whether they appear to be sensitive or not, and manage them properly.

There’s no denying that remote management of otherwise dumb devices comes in very handy, but there is a trade-off.  That’s why you should add every single one of them to the list of things that must be properly managed and secured.