IoT is the hottest buzzword today in pretty much every industry. IoT can transform (or it already has transformed) a lot of industries and processes across the spectrum – we are now safer in our homes and on the road and have become better at manufacturing and consuming tech-driven products as a direct consequence of IoT applications. But with all the good that IoT promises, there are hurdles we need to overcome to ensure we don’t bring onto ourselves the bad that could come of IoT. And by far the greatest of those challenges ahead of us is IoT security.
This article will focus on this pressing pain point for IoT and will touch upon subjects such as:
- The nature and scope of IoT security challenges
- Industries most vulnerable to IoT security challenges
- How can we make IoT devices more secure?
- How can we nullify the IoT security threat at the enterprise level?
- What does the future hold in store for IoT?
Before we discuss IoT security challenges and remedial measures, let’s have a quick overview of what IoT security is.
IoT security is the technological sphere engaged with protecting devices and networks connected to the Internet of Things from security attacks. The IoT security landscape covers technologies, processes, and regulations necessary to safeguard IoT devices and networks. It encompasses industrial machines, entertainment and home automation devices, energy grids, workplace systems, and even devices that aren’t particularly designed for network security.
IoT security provides blanket protection to networks, systems, devices, and data from a host of IoT security attacks, including these 4 prominent vulnerabilities:
Importance of IoT Security
The modern IoT ecosystem, to put it mildly, is a little complex. Pick any industry and you’d find machines and objects that could be configured to send data over to clouds and backend applications. And as we have learnt with cyberattacks over the years, anything that is connected to the internet is prone to cybersecurity breaches. There is a stream of hackers waiting to capitalize on any opportunity to infiltrate IoT systems and devices.
Another factor at play here is building universal trust in the IoT ecosystem to get it into most households, businesses, and industries and expose a larger proportion of the populace and enterprises to its benefits. But the inherent security risks of IoT have put a spanner in the works. A 2018 survey showed that 90% of consumers do not trust IoT security. Another survey suggested that 63% of consumers find any kind of connected device ‘creepy’! IoT security can help combat this challenge. The more secure IoT devices and networks are, the more parties will trust it, and consequently join it.
What are the biggest IoT security challenges in 2021?
Numerous challenges prevent end-to-end implementation of IoT security solutions today. Let’s break them down to understand the magnanimity of what we are facing.
- As IoT is still a nascent industry, many manufacturers and designers don’t prioritize it during the product design and development phase. Their focus lies on getting the product out quickly, even if it compromises security. Without the security solution integration from the outset, most devices on the IoT are exposed to cybersecurity threats.
- Default passwords often facilitate security breaches. Even if passwords are changed, they are usually not strong enough to block infiltration attempts.
- Many IoT devices are resource-constrained and do not have the compute resources required to implement sturdy security solutions. Some devices, such as temperature and humidity sensors, are not designed to run with advanced security features.
- Another major IoT security challenge is connecting legacy assets that are not inherently designed for IoT connectivity. Replacing such assets with connected technologies is expensive, so they are usually retrofitted with smart sensors. And because legacy assets have never really encountered modern security threats, the attack surface becomes even larger.
- A lack of standardization also hurts IoT device security. While multiple IoT security frameworks exist, there is no universally agreed-upon framework. Variations in security frameworks doesn’t just impact IoT security, but also hinders interoperability between them
- Many systems include support only for a specific timeframe. If additional support is not added in the form of updates, the security structure can collapse. And considering that many IoT devices remain on the network for years, it is difficult to add more layers of security periodically.
What Industries are Most Vulnerable to IoT Security Attacks?
Everything that is connected to the IoT ecosystem is vulnerable to security attacks. A smart home, an IoT connected car, a manufacturing unit, a smart power grid – every unit is exposed to IoT security threats. The degree of the threat, of course, varies; as does the severity of the impact.
For instance, an attack that overrides manual operation of the accelerator on a car, or one that disables its brakes, could have life-threatening implications. Similarly, a hacked insulin pump could pump in too much or too little medication to the patient and put their life at risk.
We have had hundreds of IoT security attacks over the past 2 decades and the affected industries range from giant retail chains (2013 Target attack) to financial steel mills (Germany 2014).
Securing IoT Devices
IoT security measures vary according to the specific IoT application and the various roles in the IoT ecosystem. Here’s an overview of what security measures can be implemented at different levels to enhance IoT device security:
Hackers can exploit IoT devices through a plethora of entry points, from cloud storage to corporate servers. Here are 12 actionable IoT security tips for safeguarding IoT devices from such threats:
Incorporate security at the design phase
IoT security should be at the forefront of device development processes, whether it be a consumer device or industrial. Enabling security by default, designing for the latest operating systems and using secure hardware is critical. The more security measures built into the device from the outset, the more tamper-proof it will be.
Eliminate hard coded credentials from the design process
Hard coded credentials can actually foster cyber attacks. Users must be mandated to update credentials to get their device functioning. If the device has default credentials, then users should modify them with a strong password, multi-factor authentication, or biometrics.
Provide robust software protection
Active and sturdy software security measures must be implemented to secure devices connected to the IoT. manufacturers and developers must implement the following security measures:
- Password protection should be mandatory to allow access to the software. The passwords must be confidential to the user.
- Restrictions must be put in place on internet usage through connected devices. Usage could be restricted to only certain software features to prevent critical data leak.
- Sensitive programs should be blocked behind firewalls.
- Every connected device must be updated to the latest version of the software.
- Potential threats must be constantly monitored. Periodic security inspection must be performed. Security loopholes identified during such inspections must be immediately resolved.
Integrate API security
Application performance indicator (API) security safeguards the integrity of the data that is sent from IoT devices to various back-end systems. It ensures that only authorized devices, developers and apps can communicate with the APIs.
Device Identity management
Each device can be assigned a unique identifier, which will help understand and monitor the device’s behavior, its interaction with other devices and identify the proper security measures for that particular device. It will also help thwart identity spoofing attempts.
Strengthen Hardware security
Making devices more tamper-proof through hardened security helps thwart many IoT security attacks. This method assumes even more importance for devices that are usually used in harsh environments or where continuous physical monitoring of devices is not possible.
A secure network enhances IoT device security exponentially. The following IoT network security measures could be taken to facilitate that:
- Ensure port security; avoid opening ports when not required
- Use anti-malware and firewalls
- Deploy intrusion detection (or prevention) systems
- Block unauthorized IP addresses
- Patch and update all systems
Security gateways serve as intermediaries between the network and devices connected on it. They have the greater processing power, memory and far more advanced capabilities than IoT devices, which facilitates the implementation of features like firewalls to ensure that hackers can’t access the IoT devices they protect.
All connected devices and software should be constantly updated over the network connections or even through automation. Vulnerabilities must be disclosed promptly to ensure time efficient patch management. Antivirus updates must also be installed automatically.
Many existing security teams struggle with IoT and operational system security as they are still new concepts for them. Training the security staff and keeping them up to date with new systems becomes critical. They should be taught new architectures and programming languages and be prepared for unknown security challenges. In particular, C-level and cybersecurity teams must be regularly trained to stay up to date with modern cybersecurity threats and protective/preventive measures.
Integrate disparate teams
Integrating disparate teams working towards a common goal can facilitate the development of stringent security measures based on knowledge exchange. For instance, when you have programming developers working with security specialists, the developers will be up to date with the security challenges on the ground and would be able to add proper controls to the devices during the development phase.
Consumers can play a key role in motivating device manufacturers towards creating more secure devices. For this to happen, they need to be educated about the security threats to their IoT device and the measures they could take to enhance their device’s security. When consumers become more aware and alert about security, they will refuse to use devices that aren’t equipped with security solutions, ultimately prompting manufacturers to make more secure IoT devices.
Improving IoT Security at the Enterprise Level
21st century enterprises have adopted IoT devices and systems to collect, exchange, analyze and (most importantly) extrapolate data to gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, improving operational efficiencies, and optimizing operational costs.
As more and more devices are introduced to the IoT ecosystem, enterprises are finding it increasingly difficult to keep them secure and thwart IoT attacks. IoT devices are fraught with vulnerabilities and have a massive attack surface ripe for breaches, making them a lucrative target for cybercriminals. However, enterprises can negate this threat to a large extent by implementing some actionable ideas to secure their IoT systems.
Let us delve deeper into these enterprise-level IoT security measures.
Securing inter-device communication is paramount to prevent data theft. Cryptographic algorithms and end-to-end encryption should be deployed to secure data at rest in a backend server and also in transit across the network. If the embedded IoT devices don’t have native encryption capabilities, infrastructure techniques like encrypted tunnels could be leveraged to secure the data.
Network segmentation for IoT devices
Network segmentation reduces the attack surface by keeping devices connected to their own network and restricting their access and interaction with the main network. This practice ensures that the connected devices won’t have access to critical files. A segregated network can be configured and managed from a centralized location.
On the other hand, multiple devices communicate directly with each other on an unsegmented network, and therein lies a strong chance of a solitary breach spreading laterally across devices and systems in the network. The more segmented a network is, the more difficult it is for cybercriminals to cause comprehensive damage.
An enterprise must gain visibility into the exact number and types of connected devices on its network. Maintain a detailed inventory of all connected IoT assets to ensure that all devices are identified. Collect information on the model ID, the serial number; hardware, software and firmware versions; and on the underlying operating systems and configuration on each device. Create a risk profile for each device and utilize these profiles for smart segmentation.
Secure password practices
53% of people use the same password across different accounts. Such poor password practices fuel IoT attacks and also increase its attack surface and impact.
A lot of IoT devices come with preset passwords that can be easily found online. Hackers run these passwords of thousands of systems until they find a match. And then they can attack your IoT network and access confidential data or disrupt organizational operations. To avoid such a scenario, replace the existing password with a new, unique password as soon as the device is connected to your network. Make sure the password is difficult to guess and is in accordance with your IT team’s password policies.
Patch and update firmware
Every IoT device possesses some sort of firmware (permanent software). Once your enterprise starts using IoT devices, make sure that every firmware update is deployed. These updates contain important security patches that prevent unauthorized access.
Continuous monitoring of IoT devices
IoT risks are more easily managed when you have a system for real-time monitoring, reporting and alerting any device activity. Implement a real-time monitoring solution that analyzes the behavior of all IoT endpoints by seamlessly integrating with the existing security framework.
Keeping tabs on physical security of IoT devices
Ensure that mobile devices are turned in and physically secured at the end of every business day. If mobile devices go missing, the data and information they contain can be easily accessed and compromised. Secure all mobile devices with a strong password or biometric so that in the event of a loss or theft of the device, no one can get into it and access its data.
Limit and control access to the IoT network
Control and limit personnel and devices that can access the IoT network. Utilize access lists to allow, deny, and monitor user access. Invest in device access management tools to control which device can access what data, and to prevent unauthorized access.
Create a security breach plan
This is arguably the most overlooked aspect of IoT enterprise security. There is a likelihood that a security breach may occur despite putting security solutions in place. In such an event, it is important to have a security breach plan that highlights the steps that need to be taken after the breach to minimize the damage.
What Does the Future of IoT Look Like?
IoT IS THE FUTURE!
It is estimated that we’ll have more than 25 billion IoT devices by 2025. The impending 5G boom will accelerate the growth of IoT ecosystems, as faster speeds and wireless connectivity will prompt more enterprises to join the IoT bandwagon. Artificial Intelligence will assume an even more prominent role in the IoT stratosphere, as enterprises look for options to streamline data collection, analytics, and inference derivation processes. Blockchain technologies may make an appearance in the IoT ecosystem and IoT Edge Computing will gain more traction. But most importantly, security will be at the forefront of everything IoT.
We can safely assume that cybercriminals will launch more organized and sophisticated attacks in the future. To combat them, the industry may adopt the following practices:
- Introduce security at an early stage in the IoT project process.
- Prioritize end-to-end security approach
- Make routers more secure and smarter
- Monitor and thwart DDoS attack opportunities
- Deploy stringent regulations and security frameworks
- Develop more secure connectivity solutions for key applications
IoT security is the biggest roadblock on the IoT’s path to universal application. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the looming IoT security threat, owing to the vast variables in the nature of devices, systems, data types, and device computing powers in the IoT ecosystem. The only way to mitigate risks successfully is to study each IoT deployment individually and curate bespoke cybersecurity solutions for it. IoT security solutions need to be built into devices and networks from the ground up and they must be put in place at every point in the IoT ecosystem throughout its lifecycle.
Bespoke security solutions need to be put in place for mobile devices in particular, as there already are more than 14 billion of them currently in use and the 5G fuelled IoT boom is expected to be driven by mobile devices. Also, mobile apps are attractive targets for cybercriminals, given the volume and nature of critical data that could be stolen from them. The magnitude of damage such cyberattacks may cause owing to the popularity of mobile apps across the globe could be massive. Consequently, enterprises would need advanced app security solutions that could be implemented promptly with zero to minimal coding requirements.
AppSealing is a cloud-based security solution that protects mobile apps from cybercriminals. It is an easy to use solution that can be implemented without writing a single line of code. Get in touch with them to develop and use a robust mobile app and add scalable security solutions to mobile IoT devices.