Security: A Quintessential Aspect of the Internet of Things

Over the years, there have been multiple predictions that there will be at least tens of billions of connected devices by 2020. And everyday objects like tires and baby monitors could all become a part of this interconnected world. The Internet of Things (IoT) makes life a lot more convenient, easy and fun. You can check locks through mobile devices and never have to rush home dreading that someone has broken inside while you were away.

While all these things are very convenient, currently, IoT is facing major security challenges that are posing new problems for individuals, businesses, and security professionals alike. Whenever you connect a new device to your existing network, you add a new endpoint behind your network’s firewall. If the software is even slightly buggy and not very secure, you could have possible just created a backdoor into your network for hackers.

Similarly, a recent research has found that many IoT based baby monitors can be easily hacked and used to remotely view live feeds and control the monitor. Also, motion sensors embedded in smart watches can be used to steal information. For enterprises, these security gaps are an enormous risk.

Although, you should not be punished for a device that isn’t secure. You should be able to secure your network with any number of smart devices connected to it. So far, the key seems to be stronger inbound and outbound firewall and better detection and blocking of attacks.

While IoT’s progress will not be stopped anytime soon, here are some of the biggest security issues and how to overcome them:

Updates, Updates and Updates!

The reason computers have automatic updates is because most users are too lazy to perform even the most basic steps needed to keep their computers safe. And when you consider protecting the many IoT devices, this problem gets even worse.

When the developers and manufactures of the devices do not include the ability to automatically update the device, or updates might not be available for the device or the devices are no longer supported by their manufacturer, it creates a big security challenge. This is one of the IoT security challenges that the information security industry is well aware of. In such circumstance, an external, multilayer network security device can be of service so that you can continue to block attacks and keep the device functional.

Even when updates are available, the user may opt out of applying an update. As part of your device management, you need to keep a track of the versions and which devices should be withdrawn after updates are no longer available.

IoT Hardware

As the IoT market grows and as hardware matures, we will see more investment and improved security. Several IoT devices have restricted amounts of storage, memory, and processing capabilities and are often operated on lower power. Security approaches that rely heavily on encryption are not a good fit for these constrained devices as they are not capable of performing complex encryption and decryption quickly to be able to transmit data securely in real-time. IoT systems should make use of multiple layers of defense, separating devices onto distinct networks and using firewalls, to compensate for the device limitations.

Safe and Secure Communication

In the initial days of internet, you probably worried about protecting your computers against viruses or malwares. If you were concerned about information you were sending online, you would use encryption on your emails. For most people, that was the extent of information security. Today, you have to not only be concerned about the data stored in the cloud, but also the physical devices and their communications.

Several IoT devices do not encrypt messages before sending them over the network. However, the best practice to use is transport encryption, and to adopt standards like Transport Layer Security. Using distinct networks to separate devices also help in establishing secure and private communications, so that transmitted data remains confidential.

Detecting Vulnerabilities

In spite of utilizing the best efforts, security vulnerabilities and breaches are unavoidable. Determining whether the IoT system has been compromised is not an easy feat. On a large scale IoT system, the complexity in terms of the number of devices connected and the variety of devices, apps, services, and communication protocols involved, can make it difficult to identify when a breach has occurred.

Tactics for detecting susceptibilities and breaches include monitoring network communications and activity logs for irregularities, engaging in penetration testing and ethical hacking to expose vulnerabilities. Moreover, applying security intelligence and analytics can aid in identifying and notifying when incidents occur.

Data Privacy and Integrity

It is important to securely store and process data after it has been transmitted across the network. Implementing data privacy includes classification and disguising sensitive data before it is stored and using data separation to decouple identifiable information from IoT data payloads. Data that is no longer required should be disposed of securely and if stored, should be maintained with legal and regulatory compliance, which is also an important challenge.

Ensuring data integrity, involves employing checksums or digital signatures to ensure data has not been modified. Blockchain, as a decentralized distributed ledger for IoT data, offers an accessible and robust approach for ensuring the integrity of IoT data.

Authorize and Authenticate Devices

Addition of multiple devices to the network offers potential points of failure with an IoT system thus, making authentication and authorization a vital criterion for securing IoT systems. Devices should be able to establish their identity before they can access gateways and upstream services. However there are many devices that fail in device authentication. Implementing an IoT platform that provides security by default will help in resolving these issues by enabling two factor authentications and enforcing the use of stronger passwords and certificates.

IoT promises opportunity, but the security risks cannot be ignored whether it is from hackers or corporations. The best remedy is to consider the potential risks of installing connected devices and doing your research.