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IoT Security: What It Is, Its Challenges, and Why It Matters

6 min read
Jun 4, 2021 12:24:23 PM

While the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding, so are its risks. Enabling devices to connect to the internet and to each other can potentially open them up to vulnerabilities — if they haven’t been designed with IoT security in mind. We’ve all heard about the high-profile incidents where hackers used a common IoT device to infiltrate a larger network. Because of this risk, it’s imperative to ensure the security of devices, and architect IoT solutions in such a way as to minimize chances for unauthorized people to gain access to networks, databases and device credentials. 

This guide provides an introduction to IoT security, the challenges of securing IoT, and tools used to protect IoT networks. As a connected device company, ensuring that your IoT security is robust and educating customers on how to secure their devices can help protect you and your customers and increase brand loyalty. 

What Is IoT Security?

IoT security is a group of methods used to secure internet-connected and network-based devices. IoT security includes strategies, techniques, and tools used to safeguard IoT devices from being compromised. 

The same interconnectivity with other devices and the internet that makes IoT so powerful also increases the risk of these devices being vulnerable to cyberattacks. The increase in people working from home since 2020 further exacerbates this concern. The average home in the United States has 10 IoT devices, each representing a potential risk point. 

The following section is designed to provide an overview of IoT security issues that may pose risks, with some of those risks being more pervasive based on the design of the device, or even the type of network utilized by the device. Best practices should be followed to ensure devices are secured as much as possible, such as implementing device encryption, utilizing trusted cellular technologies and relying on experienced partner entities.

8 IoT Security Challenges 

In general, almost any IoT device can be hacked, making a solution vulnerable. Here are some of the top challenges IoT cybersecurity needs to solve.

  1. Malware — Consumers can be locked out of using their own devices through sophisticated attacks where a device is accessed and encrypted. The hacker may then demand a fee for access. An example of this is known as ransomware and typically is associated with desktop PCs in a corporate environment where a person can click on a link in an email and compromise the computer. Embedded devices could, in theory, contain malware if those devices are procured from unknown (unvetted) sources or if design best practices are not followed. An example of this would be devices that use off-the-shelf embedded operating systems (OS) that have not been further locked down.
  2. IoT data security (cloud databases, etc.) — Protecting data transferred between devices is challenging, especially when not all devices on the network may be secure. Ensuring that devices and cloud databases use valid certificates to authenticate each other, known as mutual authentication, is one way to mitigate this risk and the integrity of the communication between the device and the cloud.
  3. Keeping up with security updates — Manufacturers are focused on building new devices to keep up with demand, and they sometimes fail to prioritize updated security releases. Many devices now include the ability to upgrade the firmware over the air (FOTA) and it is always a good practice to upgrade the devices to the latest firmware. These updates are not just relegated to feature upgrades, and could provide security patches.
  4. Maintaining safety — Not only do manufacturers need to prevent attacks, but they also need to predict new threats and respond quickly. 
  5. Identifying breached devices — Most users don’t know when their device has been compromised. Monitoring becomes increasingly difficult with the large growth of devices on IoT networks.
  6. Weak credentials — In many cases, all hackers would need is a username and a weak password to brute-force attack devices. Consumers and business users of IoT devices should be advised to change default credentials immediately upon use. 
  7. Network security — If Wi-Fi networks are not secured with strong passwords and encryption, they could pose a risk that would compromise IoT devices. Devices that use cellular networks are inherently more secure than Wi-Fi because of the strong security features and security-minded design of those networks. The carriers also have very robust, dedicated teams located in comprehensive network operations centers that manage those networks.. 
  8. Autonomous systems risk — Admins and network experts need to monitor and set rules for traffic patterns to improve the identification of issues and breaches for data management systems.

Industries Facing the Greatest IoT Security Challenges

In truth, almost any industry can be at risk for IoT security challenges given the rapid increase of device usage. Devices like a common television or an autonomous vacuum may open a risk point to a home or a building, putting any other devices on the network at risk. Security wasn’t widely considered when IoT was established, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. 

And the risks don’t only come from external sources. When implementing and updating protection, IoT admins and network experts use tools where even the slightest of configuration errors can cause an outage. This is especially critical for large enterprises in transportation, power, healthcare, and financial services. 

Additionally, some industries have next-level privacy requirements, such as healthcare and financial services. And if your organization does business in the EU, regulations like GDPR requirements made security even more crucial.

Tools for IoT Security

Security should be top-of-mind for IoT developers when designing and developing new devices. Here are some of the tools that can help.

  • API security — This crucial means of data transmission must be secure to ensure the data being transmitted is safe.
  • Network security — Address the security for physical and digital components of an IoT network using anti-malware, firewalls, intrusion prevention and detection systems, blocking unauthorized IP addresses, disabling port forwarding, and not opening ports that aren’t required. 
  • Network access control — Identify and inventory devices on a network to provide a baseline for monitoring them.
  • Implement security gateways — Implement this tool to act as an intermediary between the devices and the network for firewalls.
  • Patch management — Create a system to regularly update software through automation or network connections. 
  • Segmentation — Group and segment devices that connect directly to the network, and restrict their access to the enterprise network. 
  • PKI and digital certificates — Facilitate encryption and decryption of all interactions using digital certificates and a two-key asymmetric cryptosystem.
  • Training and education — Manufacturers, IoT security staff, and consumers all need to understand the potential security risks of IoT devices and systems in order to maintain security. Manufacturers and security staff must stay up-to-date to keep the devices and network safe.

Network Security

Devices deployed on cellular networks are inherently more secure than Wi-Fi, simply due to the hurdles that need to be scaled with Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi networks are largely dependent on the customer for security. In contrast, cellular carriers have built their companies to specialize in network operations, administration, and security. They're constantly looking for security risks to their network and the devices on that network. For this reason, cellular is a strong choice for connected devices.

Partner Vetting

Authorized resellers and entities trusted by the cellular carriers are more secure and reliable than unauthorized vendors or even potentially state-owned foreign companies. For this reason, choosing a high-quality partner is closely tied to the success of a connected device company. For example, because Zipit is an authorized reseller partner and a trusted entity to the carriers, the carriers are committed to finding solutions to security and supporting our device manufacturers rather than simply booting them off the network when there’s an issue. This security and reliability ensure your products don't become blacklisted by carriers or customers due to security issues. 

Subscriber Security

Implementations and frameworks should follow best practices for financial information and subscriber security. It's important for device manufacturers that are going down the path of implementing e-commerce-style solutions or credit card-based subscriptions to validate that their infrastructure and solution design incorporates best practices and abides by regulations. Again, choosing a partner that focuses on subscriber security, like Zipit, will help prevent related security problems.

Implement IoT Security Measures Before You Have a Breach

Given the rapid growth of IoT and the sophistication of cybercriminals, IoT security is a crucial focus. Beyond the security focus in Zipit’s implementations and frameworks, we have a robust network of partners we can point you towards full-spectrum help with IoT security.

Contact us to discuss your company's unique needs. We’re happy to offer insights.

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