IoT Cybersecurity Best Practices

A woman’s hand turns down the volume on an Amazon Alexa device

Have you ever used a digital assistant like Siri or Amazon’s Alexa? Or have you ever checked your heart rate with that fancy wearable? If you have, then you’ve been a part of the internet of things’ exponential growth over the past few years.

The internet of things, IoT for short, is a parallel network of devices connected to the internet that collect and share information. In 2021, there are more than 10 billion active IoT devices, and it’s estimated that the number of active IoT devices will surpass 25.4 billion in 2030.

IoT is on the rise because almost everybody can benefit from it. Consumers can make their lives easier and more entertaining. They have real-time access to information and the ability to communicate easily with others. IoT technology has proven to significantly improve the business efficiency of both public and private sector organizations as they can gather a large amount of information that’ll help them better understand their customers and internal operations. Also, in the industrial sector, manufacturers can benefit from the IoT as it can help them streamline their supply chain and reduce costs by monitoring processes.

On the flipside, IoT devices have several security vulnerabilities, and as their popularity increases, the possibility of getting exposed to cyber threats and attacks from cybercriminals increases. Therefore, having efficient IoT security measures is more essential than ever.

In this article, you’ll learn what IoT cybersecurity is, what challenges it faces, and finally, you’ll get to know the best ways to protect your IoT devices and networks.

What Is IoT Cybersecurity?

IoT cybersecurity refers to the processes, technologies, and measures necessary to protect IoT devices and networks from being hacked. The variety of IoT devices is wide, and it spans from innovative consumer electronics like mobile phones and home appliances to industrial machines and all kinds of automation systems. IoT security aims to protect from attacks targeting valuable data exchanged between IoT devices and servers or attacks that directly target the device’s software and hardware.

Internet of things security shares many similarities with traditional network security strategies. Τhe main difference that makes having a high level of IoT security so important is the sensitive nature of data that IoT devices collect and the systems of strategic importance they manage. Through a vulnerable IoT device, a cybercriminal can gain access to personal webcams and digital video recorders or even hack smart cars, cardiac devices, and devices that monitor traffic.

Challenges of IoT Cybersecurity

IoT devices face a series of security challenges that differentiate them from standard technology.

Lack of Security Software Updates

Companies often find it hard to update the security of their IoT devices – the reasons for this vary. For large organizations with thousands of IoT devices, updating the security might be overwhelming. In some cases, manufacturers fail to provide security updates. In others, users don’t know how or care enough to update their devices’ software, leaving them vulnerable to threats. In any case, updating operating systems, firmware, and applications regularly mitigates the risk of an attack.

Default or Weak Passwords

Common security vulnerabilities in IoT systems are using weak passwords or neglecting to change the device’s default password. Both these bad practices leave your device wide open to brute force or other types of attack that aim to get access to your network.

Shadow IoT Devices

Shadow devices are a significant security risk for IoT because they can gain access to a network without the legitimate owner knowing about it. Although the shadow device added to the network could be a human error in some cases, hackers intentionally try to breach a network to commit malicious activities.

API Security Vulnerabilities

IoT devices can send and receive significant amounts of data over the network through application programming interfaces (API). Hackers can use them as an entrance to a system, and from there, they can gain access to your devices. The flexibility and extensibility of IoT systems are powered by API’s but IoT APIs can prove to be a security vulnerability due to their unregulated landscape.

Inconsistent Regulation

APIs aren’t the only part of IoT that lacks universal standards. Until now, there were many different approaches to IoT devices, what type of software or hardware they should have, and how they communicate with each other. This makes forming a set of rules that can successfully address all threats on all IoT devices or networks problematic.

How To Protect the IoT Ecosystem

There are several security measures both end consumers and organizations can take to protect their devices and IoT networks.

Implementing IoT Security Through the Whole SDLC

Cybersecurity should start early and be a top priority throughout all phases of development. It’s essential to adopt a general strategy that takes into consideration the vulnerabilities each phase hides. Developers have to build IoT applications considering that devices have no security embedded. Acting early mitigates potential risks and allows you to solve them when the stakes are low. 

Using Public Key Infrastructure 

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) prevents APIs from communicating with unknown devices or apps. It ensures that only trusted and authenticated devices can connect through the API to an IoT network. PKI uses a two-key asymmetric cryptosystem and can authenticate the encryption and decryption of private messages and interactions.

Security Gateways

IoT devices, in most cases, lack the processing power and internal memory. Therefore installing an effective firewall or antivirus program is almost impossible. Having security gateways that act as the connecting link between IoT devices and the network offers multiple types of security policies that can prevent hackers from getting access to your IoT network.

Change Default Passwords

A simple but effective measure to protect your IoT devices is to change the default passwords. As we saw above, users often neglect to change them, so businesses are adopting policies that’ll require users to reset them and apply specific criteria like special characters, numbers, minimum length, etc.

Network Security

Securing an IoT network is challenging because of different types of protocols and standards. IoT security should address all types of network access points. It includes holistic port security, installing antivirus programs, firewalls, Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS), regular system updates, and segmentation.

Regular Software Updates

Updating devices, software, and hardware through automation or over a wireless network (Over-the-Air updates) are essential for a secure IoT ecosystem. Regular updates will help you mitigate security risks and prevent system vulnerabilities.

Continuous Training

IoT security is a complex process, and the landscape changes constantly. Security teams have to invest a significant amount of time and effort to keep up. Continuous training will help cybersecurity teams detect new and sophisticated threats, apply the most suitable security measures, and eventually prevent attacks.

Future of IoT Cybersecurity

In the past, organizations like the GSM Association or the IoT Security Foundation created frameworks that intended to act as security standards and guidelines for IoT. None of these frameworks was universally accepted by the industry, though, leaving it vulnerable to attacks.

In August 2017, the United States Congress presented the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act. Under this act, all IoT devices sold to the U.S. government must have some prerequisites like strong passwords, regular security updates, and not have known vulnerabilities. It was a crucial step towards having a security framework that all manufacturers were encouraged to implement.

In December 2020, the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 was signed and mandated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create minimum cybersecurity standards and guidelines for IoT devices owned by the federal government. The process is still in progress, but it’s expected upon completion that the NIST guidelines will become the security framework IoT manufacturers need to implement to comply with federal regulations. 

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