The internet of things (IoT) — the collective name for internet-connected devices and sensors — represents a new era in technology. This hardware leverages advancements in connectivity, hardware, miniaturization, cloud computing, data processing, integration, and more to offer benefits to consumers and businesses alike.
We are all familiar with consumers' acceptance of IoT technology, and part of that is due to convenient capabilities, such as learning and adapting without direct instruction. For example, smart devices, such as IoT-equipped vacuum cleaners, can map a room and avoid obstacles while cleaning. But convenience is just the beginning. A smart device can call the police if an intruder is detected or alert a doctor when a patient is exhibiting certain symptoms, such as heart arrhythmia.
On the business side, IoT technology can create a variety of tangible benefits, such as cost savings, revenue growth, and improved customer experiences. Companies can use smart fixtures like lights and air conditioning units to conserve energy and reduce costs. They can use IoT sensors to monitor inventory and address supply-chain issues before sales are impacted. And they can use IoT platforms that provide real-time support for customers with simple questions.
What is IoT security?
IoT's ability to share data over high-speed internet connections is what makes it so powerful. However, it also makes IoT devices vulnerable to a wide variety of threats. IoT security means protecting any IoT device and the information it contains from intrusion.
IoT security represents a combination of traditional cybersecurity and hardware protection to secure the devices themselves, the data they generate, and the networks and other systems and applications with which the IoT devices communicate.
IoT security issues
Businesses often use IoT technology to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and automate complicated workflows. In many organizations, there are more device identities than there are people, with network-connected security cameras, printers, televisions, sensors, lighting, HVAC equipment, appliances, and handheld scanners, to name a few, but many of these devices are invisible to IT admins and unmanaged by firewalls and other enterprise security technologies.
For this reason, and others, IoT technology creates security concerns, including identity theft and fraud.
There are multiple reasons for concern. To start with, there isn't a clear set of security standards for developers and manufacturers to build security into their devices — and their security practices can vary widely, leading to inconsistencies in security standards. In addition, 98% of IoT device traffic is unencrypted, putting it at risk of interception through sniffing, spyware, and man-in-the-middle attacks.
Any device on a network is a potential entry point, and criminals scan networks for devices with known vulnerabilities and for nonstandard ports to gain access. They can mine IoT devices that collect and store data, accessing this data remotely, or install malware on the device. And, once an attacker gains access to one IoT device, they can use its network to access other devices. This breach in security across multiple IoT devices is often the cause of digital identity theft.
Here are other security concerns associated with IoT devices.
- Weak authentication and authorization: Many IoT devices ship with default usernames and passwords that are often easy to guess or not changed by users. This makes it simple for attackers to gain unauthorized access to these devices. While enterprise-grade IoT tends to have stronger built-in security than consumer devices, many employees bring personal devices into the workplace — smart watches, home monitors, smartphones, and more — and these devices can provide an entry point to the enterprise.
- Firmware and software vulnerabilities: IoT devices often run on outdated or unpatched software and firmware, making them susceptible to known vulnerabilities that have been exploited in the past.
- Lack of security by design: Security is sometimes an afterthought in IoT device development, with many manufacturers prioritizing functionality over security, leading to insecure configurations and inadequate protection mechanisms.
- Privacy concerns: IoT devices frequently collect and transmit sensitive personal data, raising concerns about user privacy.
- Botnet recruitment: Insecure IoT devices are a prime target for cybercriminals looking to recruit them into botnets for use in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or other malicious activities.
- Regulatory and compliance issues: Organizations deploying IoT devices may struggle to comply with data protection regulations, as the sheer volume of data generated by these devices can be difficult to manage securely.
Identifying and mitigating risk factors
It's important to mitigate risks that could leave your IoT devices vulnerable to unauthorized access and identity theft. That means implementing comprehensive security procedures and trusting automation for real-time analysis. You can also use digital identity management to store and secure personal information.
Digital identity management
Everyone and everything that connects to the internet has a digital identity. Your digital identity includes information, such as login credentials, device attributes, browsing preferences, account information, and more. Your identity makes it possible for applications to identify you and serve the content you want to see. Many companies use digital identity management to protect this wealth of information. Proper digital identity management protects your devices, files, and digital reputation from external threats like identity theft.
Identity governance and administration (IGA) is a technology that can help organizations appropriately restrict access to IoT devices. This process can automate access to individual IoT devices and entire networks. It gives the right people access to the right devices and information — and nothing more. Identity governance also keeps information out of the wrong hands and helps organizations of all sizes achieve the complex task of complying with data handling and privacy regulations that vary regionally.
Implementing robust security procedures
It's important to commit substantial resources toward protecting IoT devices. Protect and segment data in ways that keep information out of the wrong hands. This approach often requires a robust series of security procedures, including multi-factor authentication (MFA).
Passwords are known as static shared secrets — the user knows the password and so does the server being accessed. But any time something is known, it can be exploited. Organizations that eliminate passwords entirely can help keep IoT devices and users safe from identity theft.
Your commitment to IoT security should also include a transition to cloud identity, also known as identity as a service (IDaaS). Cloud identity comprises the full range of technologies related to identity, access management, and compliance, and it is applicable to every digital identity across the enterprise: human users, systems and servers, applications and workloads, and IoT devices.
Leveraging automated tools and solutions
Automation can significantly improve your IoT cybersecurity efforts. They help your organization proactively identify, categorize, and respond to threats before they infiltrate your network. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also help companies monitor for compliance, fortify firewalls, and establish flexible access permissions.
Many AI-powered threat protection tools use real-time data analytics to make informed security decisions far faster than a human ever could. They can locate vulnerabilities, identify suspicious access attempts, and block malicious users and bots. AI's faster, smarter decisioning can keep attackers out of your network, while enabling legitimate users to seamlessly access the resources they need.
Automation and AI represent the latest in proactive security for IoT. These tools constantly audit your networks, searching for weaknesses to give companies an advantage in responding to threats, greatly reducing the risk of a data breach.