a good thing!
The term Internet of Things (IoT) is used to describe a system of devices, networks, and data, all interconnected via the internet. Because they are connected, they can collect and transfer data between one another.
A decade or so ago, IoT was somewhat limited, consisting only of devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. But more recently, IoT has expanded to myriad other connected devices like wearables, appliances, and industrial control systems (ICS), sometimes referred to as Industrial IoT (IIoT). This expansion has enabled revolutions in industries from home security to healthcare, finance, and manufacturing.
Unfortunately, IoT systems also come with vulnerabilities that could increase your cybersecurity risk. In fact, IoT devices are said to be responsible for nearly 33% of all mobile network infections (Nokia).
The attack surface grows exponentially with IoT devices as interconnected systems and the underlying network infrastructure that uses them become vulnerable. This means that in the event that one or more components of an IoT system are breached, the whole network is at risk. Sensitive information could be stolen, and the devices could be used to launch an attack, as was the case with the Mirai botnet.
This article will explore the potential vulnerabilities of IoT, the types of attacks to look out for, and how to reduce your risk.
IoT devices bring new functionality and efficiency to many business processes. However, many of their technological attributes (some of which are what make them useful) can also make them vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Those attributes include:
IoT devices are often operated under a centralized architecture. Consider, for example, an enterprise environment where a single database houses the information collected by all IoT devices across the organization. That’s a massive amount of valuable data in one place. In the event it is compromised, this would mean a catastrophic loss.
In order to function properly, IoT devices including sensors must gather large amounts of telemetry and data. While it may be less expensive to build the framework with a centralized architecture than to use multiple databases, doing so also results in a wider attack surface.
IoT devices are useful because they connect the tangible and virtual environments. The data they collect from their physical surroundings can be read and used accordingly via a virtual interface.
For example, based on the data collected by a home thermostat, a user 15 miles away can adjust the home’s temperature up or down without being on the premises. While this is convenient, this technology also means that attacks can bring immediate real-world consequences, such as outages.
As IoT devices become more available and diverse, complex IoT ecosystems can be built with a host of different devices on a network. This makes the connectivity between them more dynamic and difficult to manage. In a complex environment, IoT devices have expanded capabilities and provide a broader attack surface.
IoT devices have become a staple of operational technology (OT) in recent years. Machines that control physical processes, such as a Programmable Logic Controller used to open and close valves in a wastewater system, now receive data from connected IoT sensors and gauges.
Within enterprise systems, OT systems used to work independently, meaning they weren’t connected to IT systems, nor did they have an external internet connection. Now, however, IoT devices utilized in OT are regularly accessible not only inside the corporate network but outside it. Newly discovered vulnerabilities for hard-to-access IoT devices present a massive security challenge.
For many IoT devices, it’s difficult for network security to detect them and their network connections. This also means the system can’t easily identify threats to these devices as they arise. This is why consistent monitoring for new IoT devices is so important.
While computers, smartphones, and tablets are usually developed with some fairly robust security measures, the same can’t often be said for many IoT devices.
Beware of vulnerabilities inherent in many of these devices, including:
Use of insecure network ports
Uninstalled software updates
Unencrypted data transfer and storage
Poor device management options
Privacy protection shortfalls
Before purchasing or installing IoT devices, make sure you understand their security features, as few provide robust security measures.
Cybercriminals can attack the hardware or software of any component within an IoT system. Some of the more common types of IoT cyberattacks include the following:
As the use of IoT technology expands at the enterprise level, it will become even more critical to secure distributed environments that rely heavily on remote access. The key to protecting those environments is to implement identity-centric Zero Trust security.
Rather than relying on a perimeter-based “trust but verify” approach to security, the Zero Trust model always assumes hostility from internal and external threats. Just because a device or user is on the network doesn’t mean it can be trusted. Every user, device, and data transfer is authenticated, every time (“never trust, always verify”).
With Zero Trust, access control is role-based and offers each user the minimum level of access they need to do their job. Any part of the network that they don’t absolutely need to access will not be accessible to them. Zero Trust principles can be applied to IoT and endpoint devices under network access control (NAC) solutions, so they are only given enough network access to satisfy their designated role.
In addition to using Zero Trust, organizations should enact some additional IoT security standards, including:
Device segmentation — Separate IoT devices into groups based on their risk profiles and in accordance with security policies designed for each group.
Physical security — All IoT devices on the network should be secured in their physical environment to ensure against unauthorized access. Keep them in a restricted area or use locks and other tools to prevent tampering.
Device configuration — The security settings of every IoT device should be reviewed before it is connected to the network, including strong credentials, encryption, and multifactor authentication. Secure configuration includes installing updates as soon as they become available.
Device visibility — For connected devices to be authenticated and assigned a risk profile, they need to have complete visibility on the network.
Data mapping — Every piece of information collected and circulated by IoT sensors and connected devices should be accounted for via mapping. The same rule should be applied to any credentials used within IoT applications and automation servers.
Between cloud, mobile, and IoT devices, today’s untethered business environment is ripe with risk. Identity security can help you make sure only the right people are accessing the right devices and applications. Learn how to navigate our borderless world by modernizing access across your enterprise without compromising user experience. Start by downloading Ping Identity’s Ultimate Guide to Modern Identity and Access Management.
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