February 20, 2024. | Cybersecurity, Data security, News

Why the 2024 toothbrush tumult is a cautionary tale worth chewing over

While many in the normal world missed it, one news story raised eyebrows (and smiles) in early 2024: 

That was the news of a massive-scale distributed denial-of-service attack, launched via 3 million hacked smart toothbrushes.

Reports were soon debunked—but it underlines an important point about smart devices, and the Internet of Things, or IoT.

What is that message, and how can businesses ensure they stay safe? Let’s get into it.

Here, we’re giving you the rundown of the original news story, how it evolved, and the essential takeaways for business leaders and IT professionals.

The (fictional) attack

In January 2024 Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung released a story that mentioned an alleged DDoS attack that used 3 million compromised smart toothbrushes.

Supposedly infected by malware, the devices flooded a Swiss company’s website with bogus traffic. This resulted in significant disruption, and losses of millions of euros in damages.

Given the bizarre nature of this attack, heavyweight tech journalists went looking for the full facts, only to find that the tale could not be verified.

It turned out that there had been a misinterpretation. A hypothetical situation had been taken as a real scenario. 

We shouldn’t brush it off

While the story was just that—a story—this event is a timely reminder of the constantly growing threat landscape posed by smart devices, and the IoT, as we increasingly rely on them in day-to-day routines.

The story raised so many smiles because of how innocuous and harmless toothbrushes appear. But for the past decade, smart devices have served as potential entry points for cybercriminals. 

The implications are vast, not only for individual privacy and security but also for national infrastructure and economic stability.

The vulnerability of smart devices

Unlike the news story, the potential dangers of smart devices and IoT security are extremely real.

Our phones, tablets, and laptops have a host of robust security features, making them capable of thwarting the vast majority of attack attempts.

In contrast, smart devices rarely have such comprehensive security, making them extraordinarily vulnerable to malware and hacking attempts.

It’s not just toothbrushes and dishwashers, but industrial sensors and 3D manufacturing printers. This means that smart devices’ vulnerability can have big repercussions for businesses and people alike. Data privacy, infrastructure, and financial stability are all exposed to uncomfortable levels of risk.

To add to this, we can’t ignore the fact that the number of smart devices increases every day. This means every hour the attack surface expands, opening doors to:

  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, where hacked devices can be enlisted to flood servers with malicious traffic, unleashing chaos on critical infrastructure, resulting in financial losses.
  • Sensitive personal or corporate information breaches, due to the theft of information stored on or accessed through smart devices. This can lead to reputational damage and compliance gaps.
  • Botnet formation, where attackers take charge of networks of devices, so that they can launch further attacks and orchestrate malware infections.

How to protect your organization

Smart devices are a fact for many organizations. So what can you do to reduce risk? 

Here are our top five tips:

  • Prioritise security by putting in place comprehensive security measures for all connected devices. Make sure you include regular updates, secure networks and strong passwords.
  • Charging devices at public USB ports is risky as they can be used to inject malware.
  • Monitor devices for unusual behavior, like irregular power consumption or performance issues, as these could suggest malicious activity.
  • Only connect devices to the internet if you really need to. There are usually sound alternatives for non-essential “smart” features—consider these first.
  • Network protection is key, so be sure to use firewalls and other security solutions to guard your network against infiltration.

The toothbrush tale’s takeaway

The toothbrush attack may have been as false as Grandma’s dentures, yet the message is clear: IoT security is a critical issue for businesses.

There is no quick fix or holistic solution here—we exist within a flawed system. However, by being proactive and staying mindful of the dangers, it’s possible to cut the risk probability.

With IoT networks growing every day, it has never been more important for businesses to be at the top of their IT game. That’s why it makes sense not to go it alone. Finding the right IT specialist partner can strengthen your security, protect your data, fortify your decision-making, all while saving you money.

Why not contact us today, and discover why hundreds of businesses love partnering with Penta for their IT needs.

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