IoT and Security: Taking Challenges in Their Stride

Essentials of the IoT security

It has always been a coveted dream of people to make things around them do routine drudgeries with little or no human participation. This idea is seen in numerous fairy tales where a hero has only to wave a magic wand and objects around them are set into motion. Then this wizard’s apprentice can lay back and enjoy the comforts. 

The third industrial revolution with its mechanization and automation brought this dream closer, but the final step in making the dream come true was made with the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Internet of Things explained

The notion of the Internet of Things refers to the class of devices that are not naturally expected to have an internet connection, like a simple bulb, a child’s toy, or a fridge. 

The invention of cheap chips in computers together with wireless technologies enabled uniting billions of such gadgets into one system. Being equipped with sensors, appliances collect data to send or exchange it via the internet and they don’t need a human to direct every action of theirs. 

We start talking of smart homes or smart cities, which effectively merge physical and digital worlds bringing a far-away future within a touching distance.

The Internet of Things scrutinized

To understand how the IoT works, it is necessary to look at the devices involved in it. They are of two types:

The first type is the devices that collect information to be then sent further. These are sensors detecting heat, cold, moisture, light, and other environmental parameters and delivering the data to the decision-maker. Thus, the decisions taken are more well-judged. 

The second type is the devices on the receiving end – they not only obtain information but act upon it.

However, the real power of the IoT is in the combining of the two, when appliances both get the signal and react to it. For example, a sensor located in the field detects the low level of moisture in the soil and gives an order to turn on the sprinklers. The latter switches on and waters the crops. In more sophisticated applications, such a system can work predictively consulting weather forecasts obtained from the internet, which totally excludes human intervention.

The IoT benefits and potential pitfalls

Being a top-notch technology, the IoT promises numerous boons to its users.

Accessibility. Wherever you might be, you can easily connect to the IoT system, provided you have a smart device and internet coverage at your disposal. 

Promptness. It takes a split of a second to send information to or get it from devices linked to the IoT system that will do some routine repetitive jobs for you. The time you thus save can be spent on more creative tasks. 

Connectivity. Operating numerous devices piecemeal is now obsolete. With this technology, you can give orders to a lot of appliances from one “command center” (typically, a smartphone). They can also communicate with each other, being engaged in machine-to-machine communication (M2M) without any human participation.

Cost-efficiency. Reducing the number of specialized devices for each separate job and time spent on controlling them saves money. Another money-saving factor the IoT excels in is the optimization of energy and resource consumption.

Human error elimination. Machines don’t suffer from bad moods, they don’t require days off or vacations, they never call in sick. All the reasons why people may fail in their promise, disappear when the IoT devices step in to do a job. As a result, the productivity of work increases as well as the precision of operations.

Expansion of monitoring capabilities. All the information ultimately travels to decision-makers, where they can perform effective surveillance of all processes and resources. Then they take steps to control them, preventing bottlenecks and breakdowns or forestalling emergencies. Thus, a new level of safety is attained.

Personalization. The IoT gives people a chance to tailor the environment to their personal needs and tastes. The devices that are its elements come to know us so well that they can customize our lodgings and workplaces, being sure that we will like it. 

Due to the huge amounts of data obtained, these perks become even more conspicuous when the IoT is applied industrially. They ultimately result in increased revenues and opening new business opportunities.

benefits of industrial iot

Being a powerful booster of comfort, convenience, and improved management, the IoT hides some disadvantages, though.

Compatibility. Tagging and monitoring IoT devices are produced by different manufacturers whose products tend to be hardly compatible. So users have to buy equipment from one company only, which effectively creates a monopoly in the sphere. A better solution (that, however, is attainable only in the long run) is when manufacturers will agree upon a common standard. Until then the wide implementation of the IoT is significantly hamstrung.

Complexity. Being an exceedingly sophisticated system, the IoT is still subject to breakdowns, malfunctions, and bugs. The more intricate the system is, the more complex issues with its equipment. The latter may be caused even by such a simple reason as electricity failure. And if something goes wrong, it may have a disastrous effect on people and the environment in case the system controls some object of critical importance.

Dependence. With the IoT conquering ever-new domains, we come to depend on technologies that effectively manage our life. How much power machines should have is still a moot question, yet by delegating much of our work to gadgets we become ever more dependent on them.

Job market shrinkage. The more the IoT assumes responsibility for unqualified jobs, the lower is the demand for unskilled workers involved in them. Thus, as a result of any new technology introduction, the unemployment threat becomes more real, especially among the less educated staff. 

IoT device security. Since the data for the IoT equipment is transmitted over the internet, it is susceptible to unauthorized tapping. That is why IoT security issues come to the fore nowadays.

Why is security in the IoT so important?

With the rapid transformation of our world into a cyber civilization, crime goes digital as well. The more widespread the IoT becomes, the greater is the number of security holes through which cybercriminals can worm in. 

What are they after? Some of them may inject ransomware into a computer to paralyze it and then demand money from its owner or sell it to the highest bidder. Others target some specific organizations or individuals against whom they have political, emotional, or any other kind of grudges. Yet most hacker attacks exploiting inadequate securing IoT devices aim to steal data. Such data breaches pose a threat to the privacy of personal and financial information.

Why Is Security in the Internet of Things So Important?

Today, having or taking control over a valuable piece of information means being in control of tremendous might. It can enrich or ruin a company, create or wreck a government, and even start or stop a war. Moreover, having obtained control of public utilities through IoT security breaches, a perpetrator may attempt to disrupt the functioning of entire industries or regions. 

Fortunately, such somber scenarios mostly occur in disaster movies like Die Hard 4.0. Typically, cybercriminals steal passwords to email or social media accounts, bank card numbers, or any other data that is likely to allow them to get access to the victim’s finances.

Having obtained control of public utilities through IoT security breaches, a perpetrator may attempt to disrupt the functioning of entire industries or regions 

While individuals neglecting cybersecurity seem to be the easiest prey, companies whose Internet of Things solutions are not secure suffer too. And if a person under attack may end up being robbed, organizations face reputational damages if their clients’ data was compromised.

Thinking about how to secure IoT devices, you should first of all take care of your third, fourth, and fifth party hardware. Make sure they address security updates and concerns. Yet, before taking steps to introduce IoT security solutions in any element of the system, it is good to know what the most common challenges related to IoT and security are.

Internet of Things Cybersecurity: Challenges and Solutions

The IoT systems have vulnerabilities and bottlenecks that are exploited by cybercriminals so they require special attention.

Human Negligence and Carelessness

As is the case with any novelty, the IoT is still largely the unexplored terrain for many IT specialists, to say nothing of average users. Being excited about the opportunities the new technology has to offer, people tend to ignore the threats that go with it. We all have already mastered cyber hygiene and can detect spam and phishing emails, and have virus protective software installed on our computers. However, we still might be unaware of some IoT security hazards.

If a careless user plugs a virus-infected flash drive into an IoT system, there isn’t much that manufacturers can do about it

First of all, when it comes to security, IoT device manufacturers should try to make their products and software resistant to cyber-attacks. Many of them implement security measures and build up the first line of defense, knowing that wrongdoers choose to target not devices but people who use them. And they sometimes succeed, because if a careless user plugs a virus-infected flash drive into an IoT system, there isn’t much that manufacturers can do about it.

Solution: Raise your colleagues’ awareness of IoT cybersecurity and teach them the basics of cyber hygiene.

Rogue Device Usage

This issue is a close relative to the above-mentioned one – the human factor is at fault here as well. Thoughtless or malevolent people can violate the security of the IoT closed perimeter by installing unauthorized devices. Some company’s policies worsen this problem by the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach, recklessly putting at risk the integrity of their systems and data stored there. Rogue devices can intercept incoming communication and get access to remote equipment linked to the compromised one.

Solution: Inspect every new endpoint added into a network for vulnerabilities. 

Lack of Physical Security

Very often perpetrators get easy access to the elements of the system, which makes it easy to tamper with. Moreover, some manufacturers see no reason to splurge on making their equipment more physically secure since some of them are low-cost items. Yet, most of the responsibility for possible breaches of this nature is on the users who neglect to protect their IoT devices from outer intrusion. 

Solution: Manufacturers should pay more attention to making their IoT devices more tamper-resistant. 

Chaotic Pattern of the IoT Development

The number of IoT devices grows at a tremendous rate. Manufacturers hurry to launch new products, in which security is often compromised. They rely on guessable or even hard-coded passwords, lack safe updating algorithms, use obsolete operating systems, and don’t care about secure data transfer and storage. Motivated by aggressive marketing campaigns, consumers don’t want to fall behind the latest trends and acquire high-tech products with undiscovered vulnerabilities. 

Solution: Manufacturers should develop a set of universal security standards for all IoT devices.

IoT Threats and Vulnerabilities

Inadequate Testing and Updating

Being eager to deliver a new product to the market without due attention to cybersecurity IoT device manufacturers tend to pay insufficient attention to testing and updating (which may even be totally absent). Thus, a once-secure gadget quickly becomes vulnerable to hacker attacks and malware.

Solution: IoT manufacturers should design, build, test, and implement their connected devices with security in mind.

The Rise of Botnets

This problem became acute some five years ago and has evolved into a serious cybersecurity threat. Botnets are created by hackers to attack not a single device but a system of them, which is what the IoT is. If the perpetrators succeed in infecting it with malware, they can bring down any target or (worse) obtain control of the entire system turning it into a zombie

Solution: Reinforcing investment into IoT security software will minimize the risk of botnet attacks.

Cryptocurrency Mining

Crypto-craze spreads around the IT world, not in ripples, but in waves. Providing a seemingly easy source of income, crypto mining appeals to an ever-widening circle of IT-savvy people and hackers are no exception. They generate Botnet attacks that aim not to harm the IoT networks, but to use them for crypto mining. For instance, Monero cryptocurrency may be mined through infected video cameras linked in a system.

Solution: Regulate all IoT apps and platforms relying on blockchain technology to monitor cyberattacks and boost their hacker resistance. 

Hijacking Devices via IoT Malware and Ransomware

With the growth of IoT devices, malware, and ransomware increase exponentially. Both types of malicious programs can not only hamper the device functionality but also steal sensitive data (like recordings of surveillance cameras located anywhere – from private lodgings to offices or even military objects). 

Solution: Introduce advanced security measures involving encryption to make it harder for perpetrators to hack the system.

Data Privacy Concerns

IoT devices collect, process, transmit, and store a lot of personal data. It can be accessed through mobile, web, and cloud apps. Once this data enters the system, it stops being secret and can be exploited by companies. Such data handling infringes people’s right to the privacy of their personal information and provokes public distrust.

Solution: Implement privacy laws that regulate the secure handling of sensitive data.

IoT security controls

Threat Prediction Issues

Most cyber-attacks come out of the blue, with hackers ever elaborating their methods. Reacting to them after the harm is done is always more cost- and effort-consuming. Thus, some cloud services started to make the first tentative steps to implement threat intelligence.  

Solution: Introduce robust technologies that enable web activity monitoring and develop insights into potential threats.

This list of potential pitfalls is a universal one. However, in every industry and technology where the IoT spreads, both security challenges and their solutions are rather specific.

IoT security peculiarities across fields and industries 

IoT Sensors

These elements of the IoT network may be vulnerable to cyberattacks because of insecure design, implementation, or deployment. It happens because sensors are relatively cheap so security considerations seem redundant. As a result, sensors use default passwords (very often the same on multiple devices). The absence of user authentication makes it easy to penetrate the system. 

How can such risks be minimized? A sensible tradeoff should be found between the lowest threshold of sensors security and its implementation cost. Some elements of encryption have to be introduced (although with shorter keys than higher-end platforms employ), for example, to provide a secure booting procedure or firmware update. 

Safer communication mechanisms with other IoT devices are also of critical importance, which can be achieved by leveraging secure wireless protocols. But data protection should be enforced not only at the transmission stage but also when it is stored on a device. 

IoT Apps

Some vulnerabilities like poor password protection and inadequate encryption afflict IoT apps as well. They are exposed to multiple sources and spam attacks as well as injection threats. Plus, the low resources of many apps make it impossible for them to use TLS and other security mechanisms. Still worse, IoT may happen to rely on the already compromised 3pp libraries allowing access inside the app through updates. 

Companies should strengthen authentication and authorization to access the app and introduce secure communication protocols. A good idea is also to implement preventive mechanisms such as periodic scans and sensitive information encryption to ensure data integrity.

Smart Homes & Buildings

Since smart homes and buildings are equipped not only with sensors but also with devices connected to these sensors, the security threats grow exponentially. The data may be stolen or tampered with, and the very devices can be disabled, destroyed, or even hijacked taking your smart building out of your control. 

What can be done to prevent it? In fact, all measures recommended above (secure boot, authentication, encryption, etc.) should be implemented here as well. Yet, some additional security steps also make sense. 

First of all, any device that manifests an anomalous behavior should be taken out to exclude any potential harm coming from it. Secondly, a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for their misbehavior must be conducted to prevent such emergencies in the future. Plus, life-cycle security management should be introduced to control adequate operations of the smart building components and forestall any malfunctions of the system.

iot security issues in smart homes and buildingsSmart Cities

Compromising the security of a smart home can hurt one household only. Cyberattacks targeting the entire cities are likely to threaten the lives of many people and the functioning of critical infrastructure. It may happen as a result of the so-called APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) that are complex attacks simultaneously exploiting several techniques. In this way, cybercriminals attempt data and credential thefts or device hijacking as well as sending multiple requests that make some services inaccessible for users.

As our experience in developing smart city solutions shows, the system of measures to prevent such malignant practices should include a combination of efforts. Protection of connected devices across the city must include data encryption, consistent security monitoring, and multi-environment support. Once it is implemented, the system must undergo penetration testing that emulates a cyberattack. In this way, the vulnerabilities are exposed and the system’s ability to resist penetration attempts is checked. 

Automotive Industry

With cars becoming a part of the IoT environment, it is necessary to give thought to their protection. Otherwise, cybercriminals can go further than stealing data. They can steal the very vehicle, sever its connection with other IoT system elements, and hamper operations of subsystems within it (navigation, entertainment, etc.).

To mitigate such risks, the vehicle’s hardware must be effectively secured, a trusted user interface introduced to authenticate the driver, and all sensitive data encrypted to prevent unauthorized apps from penetrating software that controls the vehicle.

 Evidently, expanding the sphere of the IoT applications will see new challenges and hazards coming up. Organizations that are manufacturing hardware and developing IoT solutions should take this into account and pay more attention to security issues. 

  • Author Maria Rosil
  • Published January 18, 2021
  • Category IoT




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