What is IoT?

When it comes to networking technologies, we had only experienced the basic infrastructure comprising of desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. However, over the past few years, information and communication technologies have undergone a massive revolution. It has led to a surge in the number of devices that utilize network consumption. Smartwatches, smart kitchen appliances, smart household appliances, vehicles, traffic controls, medical appliances, etc are all a few of the recent developments that have made their way into our lives. Such devices connect with and function by using our network technologies. Reports suggest that by the end of 2021, there were more than 30.9 billion units of IoT devices connected to our network. Enterprise IoT security is essential for any organization that wants to deploy IoT solutions and at the same time lessen the risk of data leak, ransomware attacks, and other forms of IoT attacks on physical devices and the underlying network.

Need for Cybersecurity in IoT

While businesses and companies have been striving hard to develop more IoT devices to fore, the truth is that most often than not, the security of these IoT devices has been an ignored fact. Most IoT devices collect and store personal information and data. For instance, a smart vehicle collects information about vehicle movement, locations visited, etc. Medical appliances collect sensitive health-related information about people. Household appliances collect security and other household-related information, and the list goes on.

It may suffice to say that by analyzing the information collected by these IoT devices, one can understand the habits and the way of life of people using these devices. Therefore, keeping these devices secure should be the utmost priority of all companies developing and manufacturing them. Sadly, IoT security is the most undermined of all processes. Most IoT devices seldom get software upgrades or security updates for long-term security, and safety. Already, research indicates that 40% of the global smart household appliances are infested with botnets (a form of malware), which when controlled by hackers on a mass scale, can destabilize connected electric grids.

According to a recent survey, most companies are worried that a cyber-attack on their system may originate from an endpoint or an IoT application. Due to the lack of a secure IoT device management infrastructure, most businesses are helpless when it comes to securing their networks. As it is, 2021 saw 1.51 billion breaches of IoT applications, almost doubled compared to 639 million breaches in 2020. In such a scenario, the situation looks bleak unless steps are taken to make the IoT devices more secure.

Let us look at a few challenges to the IoT device and network security that businesses and companies face.

Security Challenges to IoT

In the list below, we have tried covering all the major threats to the IoT-related infrastructure.

  • 1) No Global Standards for IoT Security

One of the reasons IoT security is underdeveloped is because there are no global guidelines and standards for the security of IoT devices. For the same reasons, most IoT device manufacturers are clueless about or take IoT security lightly. IoT devices seldom get any security or software updates after they are purchased. Owing to an underdeveloped security framework, there is a probable compromise of information collected by these performing IoTs.

In most cases, even the consumers are not aware of the risks associated with a less secure IoT device. Such devices are capable of compromising their data and information. Further, the network connected to these IoT devices and other systems associated with the network is also at risk of a probably cyber-attack.

How to Rectify:

  • Define minimum safety standards — One of the ways to resolve this is by fast-forwarding a movement where businesses and consumers worldwide force authorities to define minimum safety standards to be followed by the manufacturing companies.
  • Increase employee awareness – Employees should be made aware of the potential risks of linking their IoT devices to the company network. Additionally, providing them information about ways of using their IoT devices securely will help strengthen the IoT security in the organization.
  • Access Management – The organization should consider the type of access they want to give to the connected IoT devices. They can customize the extent of network usage or information control that the IoT devices have within their network.
  • Segmenting network access – Developing a separate network to which IoT applications connect will ensure the complete safety of the company network and data.
  • Regular security updates – By regularly fixing security bugs and updating the security encoding of the IoT devices and applications, the overall IoT security can improve and stay safe from emerging cyber threats.
  • 2) Weak Passwords

One of the reasons cyber attackers gain access to your network or devices is the lack of a strong password. In most cases, default passwords are provided by the manufacturer to enable an easy log-in process. However, these default passwords should be changed by the consumer for safety. But as is seen in most cases, the consumers using these default passwords are either not aware or simply fail to change the passwords into their own personal or complex passwords. It makes it extremely easy for hackers to hack their devices and network therein.

Additionally, making easy passwords or passwords based on common personal knowledge also make it easy for hackers to attack your IoT device and network systems.

How to Ensure safety?

  • Strong Password Hygiene – Firstly, consumers should always ensure they have a strong password that they can remember. Further, changing the passwords often and trying to keep them complex will ensure that hacking into your password and accounts is difficult, if not impossible. Lastly, never share your password details with anyone. If at all you have to, change your passwords immediately.
  • Using OTPs – Secondly, manufacturers using default passwords should rather opt for one-time passwords (OTP) that change every time the user logs in, and the details of which are sent directly to the user on their email Id or via SMS on their phone.
  • Implementing Multi-Factor Log in – Asking the users information that only they have will ensure that the cyber security of the IoT devices is maintained.
  • 3) Data Security and Privacy

According to the recent data, 84% of the companies surveyed reported data security breaches because of unsecured IoT devices connected to their organization’s network. Apart from the network breaches and resultant data theft, the IoT devices themselves collect monumental amounts of information about their users. Since these IoT devices have a compromised security system, owing to the lack of security features, the data associated with these are at a massive risk of being stolen or misused by cybercriminals. Further, most IoT devices have basic coding where the data and communications use plain text. Without encryption therefore this data is at risk of being stolen by hackers.

In one of the incidences of such thefts, a casino had a portion of its database stolen when a cybercriminal hacked into the temperature monitoring system of a fish tank and used that as the base for getting into other systems connected to the same network.

How to fix this?

  • Data Encryption — Data encryption is amongst the first steps that can enhance data security. By encrypting all information, even though the hackers might breach the security levels and get access to the data, they cannot convert the encrypted data into readable text. It, in the end, saves the data from being used illegally.
  • Limited Access — Secondly, limiting the access control for the data and the device will help enhance the security of the IoT applications and related data.
  • Using VPNs — Lastly, VPNs or Virtual Private Networks hold the key to establishing a secure connection between the devices, and the network. VPN allows the users to share data through an encrypted tunnel, thus keeping the data transmission safe from any theft or attack.
  • 4) Lack of IoT device management

At any given point in time, there are several undetected IoT devices, also called shadow IoT, connected to a company’s network. Most of the time, these shadow IoT devices are the starting point for any cybercriminal to begin the process of hacking into a private network. Since there is no information within the system regarding shadow IoT devices, it is extremely easy for hackers to make an entry through them.

At other times, a few essential IoT devices connected to the network have weak security. This allows their system to be used for running other applications in the background. The most commonly misused interfaces are MRI and CT machines. This has led to a massive jump in the cases of ransomware in the field of the healthcare industry. In most cases, cybercriminals attack healthcare organizations via their smart appliances like MRI or CT machines and threaten to stop key operations or leak customer data unless their demands (usually financial) are met.

Further, with an increase in the number of Shadow IoTs, the amount of unstructured data has increased. This has led to data analytical problems for companies and organizations. An estimate records more than 41.6 billion IoT devices to be in use by 2025 which will amount to unstructured data amounting to more than 79 zettabytes! How do companies deal with such humongous data analytics?

How to Fix This?

  • Adopt IoT Device Management — The above incidents and reasons have led companies and businesses to evolve a concept of IoT device management. Under this precept, no IoT device gets permission to access the network without proper authentication, configuration and provision. This ensures that all devices which are connected to the system are secure, with proper protocols and encryptions.
  • Monitor Linked IoT Devices — IoT device management also lets the organizations analyze the usage, access points, and other security-related information of all the IoT solutions connected. Since monitoring becomes easy, the chances of blocking a potential threat are increased, thus enhancing the overall security of the data and the network.
  • Regularly Update Software and Security — By way of IoT device management, all the devices connected can be ensured to have updated software and security mechanisms. Regular updates can be installed to keep the device optimized and secure.
  • 5) IoT Skill Gap

IoT is a relatively new field and its full scope is yet unexplored. For the same reason, there is a huge skill gap among professionals in the field of IoT development. Adding to the woes is the dearth of the standard security guidelines for developing or manufacturing such IoT applications.

Organizations, while having an IT security cell in place, are unaware or incompetent in dealing with security issues related to the IoT segment. Further, even consumers using the IoT devices are not acquainted with the risks involved with the usage of IoT applications or ways of enhancing the security of these devices.

How to fix this?

  • Train Professionals — Professionals dealing with IoT security need to be properly trained concerning the developments of threats to the IoT devices and ways of dealing with them. Preventive measures, coding, and encryptions need to be placed to enhance IoT device security.
  • Inform Consumers — Secondly, consumers should be made aware of all the risks associated with using unsecured IoT devices. They should be able to identify secure and unsecured IoT devices before making a purchase. This will help in reducing the load of unsecured IoT devices which pose a huge risk to data protection and network security.
  • Make IoT Security Departments — All organizations should make a separate department that specializes in IoT security and devices attached to the company network.

To Conclude

Being a comparatively new concept, IoT security and associated threats have not been explored completely. Nevertheless, it is not to say that the risks brought forth due to shadow IoT devices and others are not real-time. With so much at stake, it is high time that industry and regulatory organizations look up to the matter and take steps to strengthen IoT security and implementation.

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