Examination of Witnesses

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 15 March 2022.

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Professor Madeline Carr and David Rogers gave evidence.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 2:00, 15 March 2022

We are now sitting in public and the proceedings are being broadcast. We will start this afternoon’s session with oral evidence from Professor Madeline Carr, professor of global politics and cyber-security, and David Rogers MBE, the chief executive officer of Copper Horse and an Internet of Things Security Foundation board member. We have until 2.40 pm for this session. May I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record, please?

Professor Carr:

Good afternoon. Thank you for having me. I am a professor of global politics and cyber-security at University College London in the computer science department, though I am actually an international relations academic, so I blend those two. I am also the director of the Research Institute in Sociotechnical Cyber Security, and I am the deputy director of REPHRAIN, the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online, which looks specifically at protecting citizens online. It is a big consortium.

David Rogers:

I was the original author of the code of practice and the lead editor during the process that is the basis for the legislation. I also chair the fraud and security group at the global mobile industry association, the GSMA. As you mentioned, I am also on the board of the IoT Security Foundation.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Thank you very much. Members of the Committee will ask you questions in turn, but we will start with the Minister.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

Q29 It would be helpful if, for the Committee’s benefit, you could set out your own background and interest in this area. I would specifically like to ask you about how this fits with international regulation of this space. What are other countries doing? Some of the witnesses on the last panel discussed the potential challenges if different countries are doing different types of regulation in this area. How can the UK show leadership in this space and try to minimise the burdens on businesses while protecting, and maximising the protection of, consumers?

Professor Carr:

That is a very good question. In terms of international alignment, aligning these kinds of laws across jurisdictions is a challenge. I want to say from the outset that regulating emerging technology is understood to be a deeply problematic and challenging area. It is something that the UK in many ways has led on. A lot of thought leadership has come out of the UK on this. As David said, the work that has led into the Bill has been going on for many years in the UK, and has been funded by the UK Government through universities and industry. A tremendous amount of background work has gone on. There is the PETRAS—privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, accessibility and security—consortium, which was originally the cyber-security of the IoT consortium. We have worked on that for many years with David and others. The UK really has led on this. When we look at what is happening here and now, you would have to say that this is a country that is able to confront those kinds of difficult challenges and think about ways through them. No one is saying that it is easy; it will not be, but this is a very good start.

When it comes to looking at international alignment and the impact on industry, and particularly the manufacturers of these devices, there is already a lot of alignment. I have been doing some work through the World Economic Forum, where I am chair of the Council on the Connected World. On 15 February, we launched a global statement that spoke to the three initiatives that are being considered here, and an additional two in terms of IoT consumer devices. That statement has been endorsed by more than 110 organisations around the world, including Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm, DCMS, RISCS—my institute—and indeed David’s organisation. There is a tremendous amount of international support for these initiatives and more. A lot of them are big industries, so I do not think there is necessarily a disconnect between governance of emerging technology and what is helpful for industry actors; I think there is actually a lot of alignment.

David Rogers:

I will just point to some specifics. There is work ongoing in India, Australia, Singapore, Turkey, and the US, and many of those countries—and many I have not listed—base their work on what was originally the UK code of practice. The UK’s code of practice was taken to ETSI, the European telecoms standards body, and was made into a European norm. That really, I think, has given the confidence for other countries to be able to adopt that as a scrutinised and good piece of work.

That is obviously not in isolation. ETSI is an industry-led organisation, and a lot of the work that has gone into that in advance, including through DCMS and NCSC, has been about looking at industry-based best practice. Organisations such as the GSMA worked on this in 2014, and, prior to that, in the smartphone world, have been building in hardware security and other measures, which have hardened connected consumer devices, so that work is certainly not in isolation. We are really standing on the shoulders of giants here, because a lot of the work is done; it is in endorsing good practice, and I think that is what the other countries are seeing, and they really have seen leadership from the UK in this space.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

Q I wonder if you could set out some of the challenges in this space, in relation to the fact that there is such a breadth of devices that need to be governed, with different vulnerabilities, and how we try to ensure that we keep pace with all of the changes in technology that will be coming down the line. There are also the specific requirements of different types of connected devices, whether watches or fridges.

David Rogers:

I will address that. The beauty of the IoT is that there are all these fantastic things being developed. When we started to look at what we could do, and a code of practice, we wanted to ensure that we did not constrain innovation by mandating specific technical measures that might prevent some fantastic product being created. That is why we took quite a high-level outcome-based approach.

That also meant that it was measurable, even by consumers. If you look at the top three guidelines of the code of practice that have made it into the draft legislation, a consumer can look at those things, which I would call “insecurity canaries”. If you see that a manufacturer does not have a vulnerability disclosure policy—so hackers and security researchers, for example, cannot report things to them—that is a big red flag, and I would not be buying that product. It is the same if the product does not have software update support, and so on.

We took a proportionate approach to the code of practice, and I think that that also led to the industry endorsement of it. This morning, I heard the techUK gentleman saying it is not specific enough; well, actually, the ETSI EN 303 645 is quite specific, and the compliance specification that goes with it is even more specific. For some bad practices, I do not think that we could be more specific than saying “Don’t have default universal passwords”. We want to get rid of “admin” and “admin”. That is a ridiculous situation, in some parts of the market, that is unacceptable, and we must eliminate it from the market.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

Q Do you have anything to add on this, Madeline?

Professor Carr:

Just to say that we cannot anticipate all of the new devices that will come on to the market, of course. I think what David is saying is that it is necessary to have that kind of flexibility to adapt and accommodate those, as they come on to the market. However, it is really long overdue that we do something about this.

There are two types of security in these devices that we understand at this point, which need to be taken into account. The first is the security of the data that flows through them. Although they are very different devices, that is, in many ways, a common problem in securing data—particularly, of course, personally identifiable data. The second issue arising from IoT devices is that many of them have an impact in the physical world. That then begins to blur cyber-security with safety, and we have very different ways of approaching cyber-security and safety. What we tend to do with safety is test things, over and over again, until they break; then we know how they need to be built or constructed. That kind of homogeneity in an approach to design is very bad for cyber-security, because that is what gives us vulnerabilities across the whole landscape. Those are the kinds of issues that we need to grapple with. The devices themselves will continue to emerge and evolve, but the problems that we are grappling with now are common across devices, in a way. Legislation such as this will go some way towards addressing those problems.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

Q David, I was interested to know that you were involved in the kind of practice being drawn up. I would be interested to understand the journey we have been on here; there has been an acknowledgment that a voluntary code of practice is not enough and legislation is required. Can you take us through that journey to legislation?

David Rogers:

Yes, originally there was a “secure by design” committee set up with various companies—Madeline and I were on that committee. There were various discussions about the best way forward. I remember one suggestion being that all we needed to do was to educate consumers. After I banged my head on the table quite a lot, I think that in the end we realised that it should not be on consumers. They are not the ones who are creating the insecurity in the product and they are not in a position to do anything about it either—they are mainly victims. It was recognised that a lot of those issues have been in products for many years; I go back to the default password issue, but there are many issues around things such as lack of support for software updates.

I drew up the original code of practice and worked closely with National Cyber Security Centre and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I also worked with academia and the security research community, who are hackers from around the world who have been campaigning for those issues to be dealt with for years, because they are seeing it directly in their work. We spent a lot of time getting it right; we worked at the Information Commissioner’s Office on some of the elements related to GDPR.

A voluntary code was published in 2018. However, manufacturers were put on notice at that point. By 2018, it was made public that this was the expectation; we expected the industry to improve. Some quarters were probably already compliant; you heard from Dave Kleidermacher this morning, who led the way in security improvements on mobile devices—from their perspective a lot of the stuff in the 13 requirements was already done. However, many parts of the industry have done nothing. It seems to me that they are quite happy to sit back and do nothing. That is why I think this work is necessary; there is a need for the big stick of enforcement, to be honest with you. They have been given plenty of chances, and not just since 2018—it is since the 1990s. It seems acceptable to them to carry on doing the same things that they have always done, such as buying in the really cheap software that is completely open and has old protocols and legacy issues that should have gone years ago. I am entirely supportive of taking action now— they have been given enough time. They should not wait for the 12 months—or whatever it is—for certain things to become mandatory. They should be doing this because it is the right thing to do for their customers.

My company carried out some research for the IoT Security Foundation on vulnerability disclosure. Again, that is something that is very visible; you can go to the website and see whether that company is open to security researchers and hackers reporting security issues to them. There is then a process that has been ISO-defined since 2014; it is dealt with and then the issue is made public once it is fixed so that consumers are secure. We discovered that about one in five of the companies that we surveyed—there were about 330 companies from around the world, representing thousands of products—was actually providing that to security researchers. That means that four in five IoT manufacturers did not have any way for security researchers to contact them. That is totally unacceptable, so we do need to take action. The companies have been given enough chances.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

Q Finally, I just wonder how we use this as a moment to increase consumer awareness. You both suggest that the onus should not be on consumers, but as a Minister I am still concerned that people do not entirely understand what we mean by “internet of things” and the extent to which we will have even more connected devices in the future. Could you set out what the security challenge will be in the future, in your opinion, and how we try to use this to educate consumers so that there is an informed customer base when product decisions are made in this area?

Professor Carr:

I think the element that will impact consumer decision making the most will be the length of time for which the product will be supported. I remember having the conversation in a room in DCMS all those years ago about how we could possibly be expected to spend £1,000 on a phone that will not work in 18 months, that the company knows will not work in 18 months—it will not be supported—and to not have access to that knowledge. This is not just about putting labels on things; it is about the fact that we could not find out even as an informed consumer. I think the length of time for which the device is supported will have a major impact on consumer decision making and probably more than the other two things, because a lot of people do not care about passwords and a lot of people do not know what a vulnerability disclosure agreement is or what that means. Knowing for how long the device will be secure is like having an expiry date put on it.

That is an example of where a kind of market driver can impact consumer decision making, but one of the things that we know about cyber-security more generally is that, very often, market drivers do not work in this space. There is not really, to be honest, all that much of a market for cyber-security, as people do not really care about that. That is why we need to think about moving beyond the dominant narrative over the last 50 years that Governments stifle innovation. Even if we go right back to the beginning of digital technologies and the ARPANET and DARPANET, those things were wholly supported by the US Government. They were funded by the US Government; they were invested in by the US Government for decades before the private sector came on board. So there are these points where it is absolutely necessary for Governments to be involved and for governance to happen, because we cannot see the future. If people begin to lose confidence in these devices and they begin to fear—“I don’t want my child to have something like that. I don’t want Alexa in my house. I don’t want people listening to my conversations etc.”—all the incredible benefits that we can extract from those technologies will go by the wayside.

I will give just one very clear example of this. If you think about the huge effort that the banking sector put into making sure that people felt confident about banking online, spending money online and tapping their card—“When something goes wrong, the bank will take care of you”—the reason, the logic, behind that was that if people began to think, “It’s not safe to bank online; it’s not safe to use my card in these little shops,” they would stop doing it. It was that investment in regulating it, locking it down and making sure it was safe that has allowed us to get to this extraordinary situation where you can walk around with no wallet and just a phone. It is that thinking that is important now.

David Rogers:

I think the transparency point is fantastic. This work is not done in isolation. There is lots of work going on about lengthening software updates for lots of types of products, and there are different regulations happening in Europe and so on. Consumers should not have to know about the details. Madeline has said this. They have an expectation, a very reasonable expectation, that they will not be arbitrarily hacked into. We have all read the stories about things like baby cams being hacked into. That is totally unacceptable, because at the end of the day the company that created and sold that product that was insecure at the time it was created is responsible for it. Of course, they did not hack into it, but they left all the doors open, and they sold that product and made money and profit from it.

Yes, I believe that consumers should know that they are being looked after, and the length of time that that is provided for helps them to make an informed decision—it is a free market. Also, security should not be a luxury for the rich. You should not be required to replace your iPhone, for example, just because the support ends. At the end of the day, we are all impacted by security issues. The Mirai attack, for example, was an extremely large distributed denial of service attack, which basically took down large parts of the internet. It was all those small IoT devices, routers and things that had been taken over. The attack did not discriminate between who had those devices, those older devices or whatever, but the impact and scale of that attack was the problem.

That is why we need to ensure on an ongoing basis that, as the technology develops, we can put new requirements through the standards bodies and endorse them. This is the start of that lifecycle, to ensure that those products do not enter markets like the UK.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To keep the conversation on consumers, eBay, Amazon and other platforms are not part of this Bill, but an awful lot of research out there suggests that they do not regulate what they sell. There are an awful lot of suggestions from organisations like Which?, whom we are meeting later, that those platforms’ markets are often flooded with devices that are not secure, but are cheaper. Again, to go back to your comment about how security should not just be for the rich, if someone is looking for a cheaper type of product, they can go there and their thought will not be about security, but about how shiny and new, or refurbished, it is—how it looks very good and the same as what the other child in the class has, and so on. What are your views about looking at the online marketplaces? Is that the next step, through secondary legislation or this Bill? Should they be as responsible as the manufacturers, if they are wilfully selling products that they know are not secure?Q

In that vein, is there something in the idea of a reporting mechanism—either by the Department or some sort of regulator, annually or however long is appropriate—for whether these organisations and manufacturers are working to the standards that you so strongly set out? They have had years to deal with the standards, but many are still not doing it. I am suggesting naming and shaming, if you will, to give consumers better informed decisions.

A lot of people borrow money to buy these devices. On Second Reading, I expressed a concern that many people will look in a retailer or online, and go, “If that doesn’t exist for this much time—if it only has two years on it and the loan is three years—why am I bothering to purchase it if it is obsolete in that time?” That is a concern that many people have. Consumers potentially do not know what this or that means, but they know what “security” means, and if they think something is not secure, then, as Professor Carr mentioned, they think, “Well, I won’t bother having that product, because it isn’t safe”, because that is how they view the word “security”, which is logical, but not necessarily the best option given what they are looking for. There are several questions in there, forgive me, but they are interconnected with what the Minister was saying.

Professor Carr:

I will try to answer as many as I can, as well as I can. I am sure that David has comments as well.

On educating consumers, that question of “Will the loan outlast my device?” is a very astute one, because consumers do not need to understand—they never will—all the ins and outs of phone or device security, but that is a very pragmatic response: “What actually am I buying? I am spending for three years to buy two years of a phone.” That type of consumer education will snowball when people are presented with information on how long the device will last and asked, “Is that what you want?”

I guess online markets are already regulated. There are things that we cannot buy in the UK and that cannot be shipped here. It would certainly have to be a consideration that, ideally, devices that did not meet UK standards were not able to be shipped to the UK, but I guess that is the case with many consumer goods that we cannot buy online. There is a tendency to blame business in this scenario and to see manufacturers as careless or irresponsible, which surely some of them are. However, it is also the reality that businesses have to make a careful calculation on how they invest. If it costs more to produce a product and they are answerable to shareholders, they have to have a conversation about why they are spending more on a device that is already selling well and returning a profit. I am not saying that that is the way it should be, but that is the way the free market works.

Look at what happened with GDPR. In my work, we work a lot with senior business leaders and talk to them about how they respond to cyber-security regulations. They did not push back against GDPR or see it as terribly negative; they saw that it unlocked budget for them to use, because they could quantify what percentage of their global turnover a data breach would cost or what the fine could amount to. They can take that calculation to the board, and say, “Right—we mustn’t have a breach or it would cost this much. How secure do we feel we are?” That is where such regulations can have a very positive effect on industries that would like to comply but cannot just invest in all the different aspects of a device without some justification. This gives that justification. It unlocks that funding in those board conversations about where investment in products should go.

David Rogers:

Just to address the Amazon/eBay question, I have seen all this stuff. I have bought some of it to have a look at. A lot of counterfeit and substandard—the Chinese call them Shanzhai—products are available. I have conversations in which people say, “This is about buyer beware. You’d never buy a £9.99 smart watch. You should know that that’s going to be dodgy,” but as you said, people cannot necessarily afford it. There is a peer pressure element to it, and there is a sort of endorsement by the brand. If you go to Amazon, you expect it to be a quality product, so people are lulled into that sense of security that what they are getting is quality. In some cases, that is not the case. I fully agree that the companies that are retailing this stuff cannot just lay the blame at the door of the companies that are stocking and selling it. If it is on Amazon Prime, surely Amazon has a responsibility over that.

Earlier, Dave mentioned different regulatory regimes and that there may be some fragmentation around the world. I actually think that there is probably a lot of alignment and harmony. There has been a lot of work between DCMS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US, so there is a broad understanding of what good looks like. If, either through some self-declaratory measure or by some endorsed mechanism of compliance, those companies are told to come up with a compliance statement, that helps the likes of Amazon and eBay to select their suppliers appropriately and then to remove them from their stores more easily. At the moment, it is kind of a wild west. They do not have any questions or answers.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

Professor Carr, you made some really interesting comments about the balance between regulation and innovation, and how it is not always as it is portrayed to be. Do you think the Bill strikes the right balance in those areas? Is there anything missing from it that should be in there?Q

Professor Carr:

I think the Bill would be a hugely positive step. There is a lot more to be done in terms of regulating emerging technologies. As I said earlier, the UK is a country at the forefront of thinking about these issues and taking action. It is new territory, because we are not used to legislating about these things; it seems somehow interventionist, or that it stifles innovation. Actually, digital technologies have become so integrated into every aspect of our lives, from the most personal level to infrastructure, and we have not caught up with that in what we see as the acceptable responsibility of the Government, of individuals and of industry.

There has very much been a narrative that Governments need to stay out of this area. I think that is very dangerous and wrong, because that is how we have ended up in the situation we have been in. It is certainly a balance between those parties—Government, civil society and industry—but we are a long way from having that balance right. Governments are beginning to see that there is a mandate and that they have a responsibility. We see that not just in the UK, but certainly in the US, Australia, the EU. But there is a long way to go.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

Are there other specific security measures that you would like to see in the Bill?Q

Professor Carr:

I would like to see the range of devices extended—in particular, where it talks about toys and safety devices. There is a whole category of other devices that should be included, particularly when we think about children. There is a market emerging now for tracking devices for children, or these phones, which are not really phones but communication devices. I think the scope of the devices should be expanded.

If I had a magic wand and it was up to me, I would say that devices had to be supported for a minimum time. Otherwise, you end up with the very distasteful scenario that we were just talking about, where people who are less resourced are buying less secure devices and living less secure lives. I would like to see a minimum time that devices had to be supported.

I would say those two; I would go much further, but it is a good start.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

Thank you. Mr Rogers, I think you mentioned that four out of five IoT manufacturers still do not have a vulnerability disclosure programme—correct me if I am wrong. I want to put something to you that we received in written evidence from techUK, who gave evidence to the Committee this morning. In its written evidence, it says:Q

“Current proposals risk unintended consequences for manufacturers and consumers”.

It points particularly to security requirement 2, which is to implement a means to manage reports of vulnerabilities, and notes:

“On vulnerability reporting, not all reports/vulnerabilities will require intervention. The Enforcement Body needs to carefully consider when to alert the public about security risks to ensure associated devices are not viewed as obsolete or that vulnerabilities yet to be mitigated are advertised to threat actors.”

What is your response?

David Rogers:

I will be frank: I think they have misunderstood what vulnerability disclosure is. As I mentioned, there is an ISO specification for this. The security research community and the hacking community have been campaigning for this for years and years. It is well established. A lot of the bigger tech companies have recognised that this is the right way to deal with things. I am sure that you understand vulnerability disclosure, but the process is that if a security researcher or hacker discovers a vulnerability, they have an easy way to report that to the company confidentially. That process typically takes anything from 30 days to 90 days. At the end of that process, a fix is issued, if that is possible. It may even extend for a longer time if it involves other companies. Then the security researcher is able to go public with their work, but that is only after a fix is issued. This has been fought out over a long period, and is the right way of doing things. It is agreed between the hacking and the tech communities.

There may be some education work to be done for those manufacturers who do not understand that this is the right thing to do. They should be implementing vulnerability management schemes internally anyway. I think John Moor mentioned this morning that it is about quality. It is about good software quality measures and good software design. We have seen some really catastrophic problems caused by vulnerabilities that have been sitting there for years. That is the old world. We need to move on from that. The new world is about continuous software updates and a continuous product security lifecycle. People cannot just ship and dump products on to the market and leave them there.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Can I bring in Kevin Brennan, as we only have four minutes before this panel comes to an end?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

Professor Carr, you do not need a magic wand to get your wishes; you need an amendment. Would you welcome an amendment to the Bill that specified that devices have to be supported for a minimum time?Q

Professor Carr:

Yes, I would.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

Q Do you own an Alexa-type device in your home?

Professor Carr:

No.

Professor Carr:

Because I do not trust them. There we go. I will not have one, because I do not trust it.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

Q Will the Bill give you sufficient trust to purchase and acquire such a device and have it in your own home?

Professor Carr:

No, to be honest.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

Very briefly, Professor Carr, if the security threat as regards connected products were substantially to change over the next few years, will the Bill cover those changes, or will some flexibility need to be built into the Bill to address them?Q

Professor Carr:

It is impossible to answer that. That is what makes this type of legislation difficult. We do not know how the threats will emerge or change. A couple of years ago we could not have imagined that ransomware would be the threat that it has become, but the fact that we cannot anticipate the future with certainty does not mean that we cannot act now. Nothing will be sufficient to fix the insecurity of the digital world that we live in. No Bill will change that, but small bits of legislation beginning to address these vulnerabilities is the right way to go. I do not think that anyone should be afraid of doing this. This is the beginning of the future. Governments will not stand by forever and watch the damage and destruction that can be done by digital devices. We have to start somewhere, and I think that this is it.

David Rogers:

I am coming from a slightly different position, but obviously I would like to see all 13 requirements implemented. I think that it does provide future proofing, because this provides the foundation of future trust for everything. Everything that we have written in there provides future underpinnings. If we are allowing industry-based organisations such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to maintain the specification for the future, that allows organisations to improve and add things. I think Dave mentioned biometrics, for example. They can go to ETSI and add to it, and let’s allow industry to develop that. Organisations such as NCSC and DCMS are also there to input into those standard bodies. I think it is a really strong start.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Thank you. That brings us to a slightly premature end of this evidence session. I thank the witnesses, on behalf of the Committee, for their evidence.