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FCC Approves Plan for Certification of Smart Tech Devices

Think of voluntary program as the Energy Star of cybersecurity

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Some consumers have been hesitant to embrace “smart” fitness trackers, fridges, home monitoring systems, microwaves, baby monitors, thermostats, TVs and other always-connected-to-the-internet electronics and appliances.

Why? These devices are vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

The Biden administration wants to alleviate such fears. On July 18, 2023, the White House announced a voluntary, government-backed cybersecurity program to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions on the security of smart devices.

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Program will fill a need for security

And on March 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to create this U.S. Cyber Trust Mark program, as it is being called. Products that meet certification requirements will display a shield-shaped logo.

Internet of things, or IoT, devices bring tremendous benefits,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel says. “But this interconnection can also bring new security risks.” She compares the initiative to the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Star program, designed decades ago to promote energy efficiency.

Several major appliance, consumer products and electronics manufacturers and retailers have made voluntary commitments to bolster cybersecurity for the products they sell, the administration says. They include Amazon, Best Buy, Google, LG Electronics USA, Logitech and Samsung.

“Poorly secured products can enable attackers to gain footholds into American homes and offices and steal data and cause disruption,” says Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology at the National Security Council. “Recent vulnerabilities in these devices have shown just how easily a bad actor can exploit these devices to deploy botnets and conduct surveillance.”

While the FCC plans to solicit public comments on disclosures to consumers, including whether a device's software or firmware has ties to a country that poses national security risks, the government expects to have the program in place in late 2024. Products will appear on the market soon after.

The process is not fast, a senior administration official said. But the next year or so will allow the public and manufacturers to become familiar with the U.S. Cyber Trust Mark.

How do products earn the mark?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published certification standards. The standards include a combination of robust passwords, data protection, software updates and incident detection capabilities. NIST also wants to establish a separate set of rules for consumer-grade routers, typically the gateway to the internet in people’s homes and deemed at higher risk for eavesdropping, password theft and other concerns.

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The administration, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, plans to help the FCC educate consumers to seek out the new label when making purchasing decisions. And they’ll be pushing major retailers to prioritize labeled products on store shelves or online.

Beyond the logo, consumers will be able to access a QR code that links products to a national registry of certified products. The White House wants to bring in the Justice Department to establish oversight and help build trust in the program and the State Department to ensure the U.S. program will complement international standards.

It is also asking the Energy Department, in tandem with National Laboratories and industry partners, to come up with certificate parameters for smart electric meters and power inverters. These devices are expected to be key components in a clean smart grid of the future.

The use of labels to attempt to simplify technology for consumers is a hallmark of the Biden administration. In late 2022, the FCC adopted broadband nutrition labels that promise to help people shopping for high-speed internet. The concept is expected to be in use by mid-2024.

This story, originally published July 18, 2023, has been updated to reflect the FCC’s vote to create the program.

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