UK to ban default passwords in smart home devices

UK to ban default passwords in smart home devices

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The UK government is introducing legislation to improve the security of smart home devices, eliminating default passwords and other vulnerabilities. There will also be a requirement for distributors to ensure that the systems they sell have sufficient security.

The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PSTI) Bill aims better protect citizens, networks and infrastructure from insecure consumer connectable products as well as boost the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and 5G networks.

Part 1 of the bill is intended to make sure consumer connectable products, such as smart TVs, internet-connectable cameras and speakers, are more secure against cyber attacks, protecting individual privacy and security.

Forecasts suggest that there could be up to 50 billion connectable products worldwide by 2030, and on average there are nine in each UK household.

However, the adoption of cyber security requirements within these products is poor, and only 1 in 5 manufacturers embed basic security requirements in consumer connectable products.

Under the bill, manufacturers, importers and distributors will have to comply with new security requirements relating to consumer connectable products and create an enforcement regime with civil and criminal sanctions aimed at preventing insecure products being sold in the UK. After the bill is passed, there will be at least 12 months notice to enable manufacturers, importers and distributors to adjust their business practices before the legislative framework fully comes into force.

The product security measures follow extensive engagement with the National Cyber Security Centre, tech and retail industry stakeholders, consumer groups and academia in 2019 and 2020.

Part 2 of the bill covers Telecommunications Infrastructure measures, supporting the quick and efficient rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and 5G networks that is says balances the interests of landowners, telecoms operators, and the public.

The government says this will align the process and framework for renewal agreements with those for new agreements and encourage more collaborative negotiations and introduce measures that will help optimise the use of existing infrastructure such as mast sharing and the installation of new masts that have been subjected to protests.

Many telecoms operators and landowners report experiencing difficulties when negotiating requests for rights to install, use and upgrade telecoms infrastructure. These difficulties mean it takes longer for agreements to be concluded, which in turn slows down the roll out of better mobile and broadband connections for homes and businesses.

There are also occasions where landowners fail to respond at all to requests from telecoms operators. Again, this delays deployment and can also lead to operators altering their rollout plans, meaning some areas are left behind.

Separately, there is a lack of clarity and consistency in the procedures and frameworks applicable to renewal agreements. There is uncertainty as to how some agreements should be renewed, and in some situations, operators are prevented from obtaining a new agreement altogether, even though they may already have apparatus in place. Taken together, these issues have led to extensive delays in renewal agreements being completed, which has potential impacts on the pace at which existing apparatus can be upgraded and shared.

The new legislation will encourage collaborative negotiations for agreements by introducing a requirement for telecoms operators to consider the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (‘ADR’) rather than legal proceedings in cases where there are difficulties in agreeing terms. Operators will also be required to explain the availability of ADR as an option in their notices to landowners.

Agreements can be renewed consistently, and on similar terms to those for new agreements, throughout the whole UK, which will benefit the operators and potentially cut the payments to landowners hosting cell towers. This will become more critical with the roll out of 5G small cell basestations.

It will also introduce new provisions to enable operators to obtain rights over certain types of land quickly in circumstances where a landowner does not respond to repeated requests for the rollout of broadband.

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