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IoT Home Inspector Challenge
The IoT Home Inspector Challenge is aimed at heading off new types of home-based network vulnerabilities. (FTC Graphic)

The Internet of Things can be a rough neighborhood, as October’s massive botnet attack illustrated – and so, in an attempt to head off future hacks, the Federal Trade Commission has organized a contest for IoT security tools.

It’s offering prizes worth up to $25,000 for the top entries.

The FTC’s IoT Home Inspector Challenge is open to developers who come up with tools to address security vulnerabilities caused by out-of-date software in devices that range from webcams to, um, kitchen ranges:

“An ideal tool might be a physical device that the consumer can add to his or her home network that would check and install updates for other IoT devices on that home network, or it might be an app or cloud-based service, or a dashboard or other user interface.  Contestants also have the option of adding features such as those that would address hard-coded, factory default or easy-to-guess passwords.”

Such vulnerabilities were what left the door open for cyber attackers to direct millions of Chinese-made webcams to overwhelm a key bottleneck in the global internet last October. That attack caused intermittent shutdowns of Twitter, Amazon, Reddit and other high-profile online services.

Network experts say the Internet of Things is likely to get even gnarlier as more internet-enabled devices such as fitness monitors, connected cars, household appliances, thermostats and smart bulbs come online.

“Every day American consumers are offered innovative new products and services to make their homes smarter,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “Consumers want these devices to be secure, so we’re asking for creativity from the public – the tinkerers, thinkers and entrepreneurs – to help them keep device software up-to-date.”

Submissions will be accepted as early as March 1, and the deadline is noon ET on May 22. Five judges, including Tadayoshi Kohno, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, will select the winners by late July.

The prize for the best technical solution is $25,000. Up to $3,000 will be awarded for up to three honorable mentions.

This is the FTC’s fourth government contest under the America COMPETES Act, and the first one addressing IoT issues. Check the FTC’s website for complete rules and requirements. Contest information has also been posted on Challenge.gov.

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