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What is IoT Security? Explanation, Importance, Types, and More

Have you ever heard of the Internet of Things? The Internet of Things (or IoT for short) is a collective term referring to devices that are computerized Internet-connected objects, like networked security cameras, printers, handheld scanners, smart refrigerators, wearable tech (e.g., Apple Watch, Fitbit), and even Wi-Fi-equipped cars. It’s all around us, and it’s growing. Unfortunately, it’s also vulnerable. That’s why we have IoT security.

This article explores the concept of IoT security. We’ll define it, list its types and aspects, explain why it is important, and discuss its challenges, requirements, and best practices. It also shares an online cybersecurity program professionals can take to boost their careers.

So, let’s start with a definition. What is IoT security?

What is IoT Security?

IoT security protects Internet of Things devices and networks they connect to, ensuring that these wireless devices don’t introduce threats into the connecting network.

Why is IoT Security Important?

Consumer IoT devices aren’t typically equipped with solid security, and long-lived operational technology (OT) devices might not have been designed with security in mind, thus introducing risks when connected to the network. As more organizations incorporate these devices into their networks, they must balance the benefits such technology brings against the risks they pose to data security, confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Consider this: every IoT device deployed on a network is another possible portal into the network, increasing the organization’s digital attack surface because of possible access management issues, coding flaws, and other vulnerabilities. IoT security is essential to mitigating these devices’ risks to the organization.

Companies increasingly leverage IoT and OT devices to improve productivity and increase operational visibility. Consequently, growing networked devices deployed on networks have access to sensitive data and critical systems.

Unfortunately, these devices come with security issues that make them vulnerable to attacks and place the rest of the company at risk. For instance, cybercriminals commonly target unprotected smart lighting, printers, IP cameras, and other otherwise innocuous networked devices to access an organization’s network. From that entry point, they can move laterally through the network to enter more critical devices and sensitive data, creating ransomware or double extortion cyberattacks that can bring down a business’ network.

So, IoT security is essential in any cybersecurity strategy since it limits the risks posed by insecure, networked devices.

Let’s explore the different types of IoT security.

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The Types of IoT Security

There are three main types of IoT security.

  1. Network Security. Users must protect their devices against unauthorized access and possible exploitation. Well-executed IoT network security implements a zero-trust security strategy that minimizes the attack surface.
  2. Embedded. Nano agents offer on-device security for IoT devices. Runtime protection monitors the device’s current state and acts based on anomalies to identify and remediate zero-day attacks.
  3. Firmware Assessment. Firmware security starts by assessing the firmware of a protected IoT device and finding potential vulnerabilities.

The Main Aspects of IoT Device Security

The following are the chief components of IoT device security.

  • Credential security. If possible, IoT device admin credentials must be updated. It’s wise to avoid reusing credentials across the entire network; each device must have a unique password. This approach helps prevent credential-based attacks.
  • Deactivating unnecessary features. Most IoT devices have multiple features, but some may go unused by the owner. However, even when not in use, these features may keep additional ports open on the device just in case they’re needed. However, the more ports an Internet-connected device has open, the greater the attack surface. Often, attackers ping the device’s many different ports, looking for an opening. Turning off unnecessary device features closes these extra ports.
  • Device authentication. IoT devices typically connect to servers and other networked devices. Consequently, every connected device should be authenticated to ensure they don’t accept requests or inputs from unauthorized parties. However, this type of authentication usually needs to be configured by the device manufacturer.
  • DNS filtering. DNS filtering uses the Domain Name System to block malicious websites. Adding DNS filtering as a security measure to a network connected to many IoT devices prevents the devices from contacting forbidden places on the Internet.
  • Encryption. IoT device data exchanges over the network are vulnerable to external parties and on-path attackers unless the data is protected by encryption. Consider encryption, an envelope that keeps a letter’s contents private as it moves through the postal service. Ideally, encryption must be piggybacked with authentication to prevent on-path attacks entirely. Otherwise, attackers could set up separate encrypted connections between IoT devices, with no one aware that the communications are being intercepted.
  • Software and firmware updates. IoT devices must be updated whenever the manufacturer releases a software update or vulnerability patch. These updates remove exploitable vulnerabilities. If a device doesn’t have the latest software, even if outdated by a mere few days, it’s potentially more vulnerable to attack. In many cases, the manufacturer, not the device owner, controls the firmware updates, so it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure vulnerabilities are patched.

What Attacks Are IoT Devices Most Susceptible To?

Although there are many threats, these are the attacks that IoT devices are most vulnerable to.

  • Credential-based attacks. Many IoT devices have default administrator usernames and passwords that are often not very secure, like the notorious “password” as the password scenario. Even worse, all a model’s IoT devices sometimes share these same credentials! And, compounding an already terrible situation, these credentials can’t be reset in some cases. Attackers, unfortunately, are aware of these default username and password setups, and many successful IoT device attacks happen simply because the attacker guessed the proper credentials.
  • Firmware vulnerability exploits. All computerized devices have firmware and software that runs the hardware. In smartphones and computers, the operating systems run on top of the firmware, but in most IoT devices, the firmware IS the operating system. Unfortunately, most IoT firmware doesn’t enjoy the many security protections the more sophisticated computer operating systems possess. Sometimes, the firmware is loaded with known vulnerabilities that can’t always be patched, leaving IoT devices open to attacks that exploit these vulnerabilities.
  • On-path attacks. An on-path attacker positions themselves between two trusted parties, such as an IoT security camera and the camera’s cloud server, intercepting communications between them. IoT devices are particularly vulnerable to these attacks because many lack default encryption for their communications.
  • Physical hardware-based attacks. Many IoT devices, such as stoplights, security cameras, and fire alarms, are usually placed permanently in public areas. If the attacker establishes physical access to the IoT device’s hardware, they can steal its data or take control of the device. Although this approach affects only one device at a time, the effects of the physical attack could spread to other devices if the attacker gains information that lets them compromise the network.

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How Do Hackers Use IoT Devices in DDoS Attacks?

In a DDoS attack, unscrupulous, malicious parties typically use unsecured IoT devices to generate network traffic. DDoS attacks are more effective when attackers send traffic to the target from diverse devices. These attacks are more challenging to block because so many IP addresses are involved since each device has its own IP address. One of the largest DDoS botnets on record, the Mirai botnet, consists mainly of IoT devices.

IoT Security Challenges

IoT security implementation faces a host of challenges and obstacles. The following are the most significant and common.

  • Lack of Encryption. Most IoT device network traffic is unencrypted. Unfortunately, this makes confidential and personal data vulnerable to malware attacks like ransomware or other data breaches and outright theft.
  • Difficulty in Updating and Patching Devices. Many IoT devices can’t receive regular security updates, making them vulnerable to attacks. But without built-in IoT security, it isn’t easy to provide firmware updates and patches, run secure upgrades, and perform dynamic testing. Therefore, the organization must take the lead in protecting its IoT devices and network environment from intrusion.
  • Firmware and Software Vulnerabilities. IoT devices’ short development cycles and low prices limit funds for developing and testing secure firmware. Unfortunately, without this built-in IoT security, many devices are vulnerable to the most rudimentary forms of attack. Millions of IoT devices are affected by vulnerabilities lurking in standard components, from software to firmware to third-party apps. Additionally, network environments can be compromised by vulnerable web apps or software.
  • Insecure Channels and Communications Protocols. IoT devices often use the same network as the organization’s other devices, so an attack on one device can spread to others. A lack of network segmentation and oversight of IoT device communication makes them easier to intercept. IoT devices rely on protocols such as HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and API, and cyber criminals exploit them.
  • Weak Authentication and Authorization. Unfortunately, IoT devices often depend on weak authentication and authorization practices, which makes them vulnerable to threats. For instance, many IoT devices use default passwords, making it easier for hackers to access the devices and the networks they’re connected to for communication. Additionally, rogue IoT devices (i.e., undetected devices) that connect to the network can be used to launch attacks and steal data.

IoT Security Requirements

IoT security requirements support a strategy tailored to the business, industry, and network environment. There is a broad range of protections to be considered in addition to the demands of practicing administrative oversight, performing regular patches and updates, enforcing strong passwords, and emphasizing Wi-Fi security.

The best way to detect malware from an IoT device is to monitor network and device behavior to detect deviations. Since many IoT devices have limited configuration capabilities, you can protect the IoT environment by implementing security solutions that offer multiple layers of protection, such as endpoint encryption, instead of trying to secure the firmware and software at the IoT device’s end.

Furthermore, as the IoT and the cloud converge, you should secure both technologies with another layer of cloud-based security protocols and solutions that add processing capabilities to devices at the edge. There are many different IoT device protocols, from Internet and network protocols to Bluetooth and other communications protocols.

Finally, industries that depend on GPS for vital everyday operations should monitor their GPS-enabled devices for possible security issues such as false or jammed GPS signals.

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What Are Today’s Top IoT Security Threats?

This pie chart, courtesy of Palo Alto Networks, illustrates the primary IoT security threats.

Top IoT Security Threats

The Best Practices for IoT Security

A few of the best practices for securing your networked devices include:

  1. Patch Any Vulnerable Systems. IoT devices often have vulnerable software and firmware like other computers, so installing updates and patch vulnerabilities is critical. If devices can’t be taken offline to patch, deploy an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) to prevent network-based exploits.
  2. Discovery and Risk Analysis for IoT Devices. Organizations often need more visibility into the IoT devices they have connected to their networks. Unfortunately, employees may sometimes connect unauthorized systems, or authorized IoT devices may not support the organization’s traditional endpoint security protections. Companies should thoroughly inventory their networked devices to secure their corporate network’s IoT systems. It’s a high priority to find a solution that can easily and quickly discover all connections to the network.
  3. Enforce Zero-Trust Network Access and IoT Network Segmentation. If IoT devices share the same network as other corporate systems or can be accessed from the Internet, they become an access vector for potential attackers. To reduce the risk they could pose to other corporate systems, IoT devices must be segmented from the rest of the corporate network. Organizations should then apply a zero-trust policy that allows only regular operational access.

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You might also like to read:

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