As more and more enterprises build out their IT environments to include a multitude of IoT devices at the edge of their infrastructure, they are running into unprecedented hurdles related to IoT security. The sheer volume of IoT implementations is massive and growing quickly. The 20 billion IoT devices deployed in 2020 is just the tip of the iceberg. IDC predicts over the next five years, connected devices will reach 41.6 billion, generating nearly 80 zettabytes of data by 2025. 

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Big Risks to Your IoT Network

Even small IoT sensors — in a manufacturing environment for example — can expose a business to as much risk as a large server within a datacenter. Once those devices are compromised, they can create havoc on IT systems or even serve as a gateway into the broader network infrastructure. The first reason is that IoT devices are usually not technically designed with security in mind. On the contrary, they were designed for simple functionality and low cost. 

And just as importantly, they are not usually managed for security. In a recent study, 83 percent of medical imaging devices ran unsupported operating systems, making it easier for bad actors to exploit various vulnerabilities. Add the fact that much of the data traffic travels unencrypted, and IoT devices become a favorite target of cybercriminals. Once one device is hacked, it’s easy to jump to even more valuable IT assets compromising IoT security. 

Core IoT Security Considerations

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) recently outlined baseline IoT device abilities and corresponding security actions, both for technical and non-technical areas. They are as follows: 

Technical Capabilities: 

  • Device identification: must be uniquely identified logically as well as physically 
  • Device configuration: software configuration can be changed and performed only by authorized personnel
  • Data protection: device must protect data stored and transmitted from unauthorized access and changes
  • Logical interface access: must restrict logical access to network interfaces and services used by those interfaces
  • Updates: software may be updated only by authorized personnel via a secure mechanism
  • State awareness: device reports on its cyber security status, with information only accessible to authorized persons 

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Non-Technical Capabilities:

  • Documentation: create, gather, and store relevant security information throughout device development and lifecycle
  • Query reception and information dissemination: ability for device manufacturers to receive queries from the IoT device customer, and broadcast and distribute cyber security information 
  • Education: manufacturers must create awareness of security needs and educate customers on those issues and features

IoT Security Tips

1. Start by Testing at the Code Level

In order to build better security into IoT, you should start with the smallest component, which is the code. Since many IoT devices are very small, they tend to be built on common programming languages such as C, C++ or C#, which can fall victim to memory leaks or buffer overflows and become very big problems. The best defense is to test and retest, using tools optimized for IoT devices. Cyber security professionals can also use “stack cookies,” which are randomized data strings written into application code to help mitigate buffer overflows by verifying changes to the initial code. 

2. Ensure Access Control and Secure Data Management

IoT devices should be designed and configured from the beginning with authentication and data management in mind. Among the most important areas to address:

  • Authentication: build authentication protocols for devices, data, and systems, including stored and transmitted data. Use strong authentication measures to ensure only authorized users can access device settings and data. 
  • Remote access: implement security measures to segment and protect live systems from testing environments, and use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption to protect wifi networks.
  • Limit permissions: Put sensible administrative access limits in place to keep unauthorized individuals from accessing devices and data. Not every employee needs access to customer data, for example. 
  • Secure data end to end: apply a holistic security approach that addresses the entire lifecycle across data collection, transmission, storage, access, use, and deletion. 
  • Apply data minimization: limit the collection of personal data and retain what you need only for an essential time period, not indefinitely. 

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3. Automate With AI and Machine Learning (ML) Tools

Many traditional security measures are being supplemented today by AI and machine learning capabilities. One new area of interest is in ML-enabled anomaly detection to indicate impending threats. ML algorithms continuously run through IoT device traffic data to identify abnormal behavior. Instant notifications are generated in the event an anomaly is detected, and applications can be programmed to automatically trigger a reaction to specific irregularities. AI-driven analytics tools, streaming data analysis, and threat modeling tools are also new weapons in the batter over IoT security.

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Conclusion: IoT Security Takes Planning

Securing your growing IoT network must be an integral component of your overall IT and cyber security planning and best practices. As devices continue to be deployed further out to the edge of your infrastructure, more assets will be vulnerable to cyberattack, making a holistic cyber protection strategy as vital as ever. 

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