Test Internet of Things (IoT) technology can help businesses become more efficient and make workers’ jobs easier. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the use of IoT systems is growing, meaning more devices are coming online all the time. This trend is expected to continue, so companies that want to work with this exciting and flexible technology must take advantage of the benefits and minimize the disadvantages.
The challenges of securing IoT devices are among those disadvantages. While this problem is present in all internet-connected devices and systems, it manifests in unique ways within the IoT. In the following sections, we explore why privacy and security are important in IoT technology, and how to evaluate the privacy and security features of new devices.
IoT: Common Security Problems
IoT devices are subject to security problems in the following areas, enabling hackers to find vulnerabilities and carry out nefarious activities such as installing malware or stealing valuable information.
- Software and firmware. Because they are typically small, with limited computing power, IoT devices are often run by unsophisticated software that lacks robust security functionality.
- Communications. This area presents the possibility for attacks that enable bad actors to take over devices and use them for malign purposes or to access other devices on the network.
- Data. Because of their weak security, IoT devices are susceptible to leaks, which can lead to the loss of data and private customer information such as health records or credit card numbers.
- Physical system. While most attacks on IoT devices are carried out remotely, bad actors can and do steal the actual physical objects and tamper with them to make them operate in unintended ways.
Strengths and Weaknesses for Security and Privacy in IoT
As the list above shows, IoT problems include a variety of security and privacy issues. These issues can cause the same types of difficulties as any other internet-enabled device, including computers, tablets, and mobile phones. The challenges include disruption to operations, information being held for ransom, or outright data theft. Needless to say, these scenarios are to be avoided, even at great cost.
The common wisdom for preventing data disruptions in non-IoT systems include the following measures. Remember that some of the simplest measures are the most effective. For example, keeping software updated alone can avert many security threats.
- Keep all software applications updated.
- Install antivirus software and keep it updated.
- Use complex, unique passwords.
- In addition to passwords, use multifactor authentication.
- Regularly back up data.
- Use a secure internet connection.
- On devices that are used on public Wi-Fi, install a virtual private network (VPN).
- Create a security culture by providing ongoing training and testing for employees and frequently mentioning security and privacy in both internal and external communications.
- Train employees on how to evaluate email messages, phone calls, and other contacts for potential threats.
- Direct employees to always secure computers and paperwork, even if only briefly leaving their work areas.
- Restrict access to critical company information and immediately revoke access for employees who leave.
In the next section, we’ll discuss whether these same measures can be deployed for IoT devices.
How Can My Company Improve Security in IoT?
Even companies that have mastered the steps above wonder, “How can we improve security in IoT?” Cybersecurity provider Securiwiser notes, “IoT devices are often the least secure devices on a business’s network. Many IoT devices lack advanced security functionality out of the box. On top of this, many IoT devices have a strict lifecycle and old models stop receiving security updates.”
Therefore, to avoid common security problems like malware, data leaks, and other cyberattacks users must take extra measures to ensure privacy and security. In addition to the tips mentioned in the previous section, consider the following suggestions.
- Track IoT devices. Create an inventory of all IoT devices that includes their functionality, manufacturers, model numbers, serial numbers, firmware and software versions, and expected end of life. Use this information to update and replace as needed. As you are going through this exercise, evaluate the security risk of each device and remove those that are problematic.
- Set up a maintenance schedule. Use the inventory mentioned above to create a schedule for maintaining IoT devices, including updating software and firmware and removing devices that are no longer supported by their manufacturers.
- Deactivate unused features. Carefully review all the features of IoT devices, even very simple ones. Deactivate any features you won’t be using and note them in the device inventory mentioned above.
- Implement network segmentation. Keep your network partitioned into separate areas for IoT and IT assets. This approach reduces the chance of contamination of the other side when one is attacked.
- Carefully consider external access. IoT manufacturers may have access to the devices they sell to you for innocuous purposes such as maintenance. But, if possible, you should revoke such access, as well as that for any third party, such as vendors or contractors. If nothing else, think carefully before allowing such access.
Finally, to avoid IoT issues that threaten privacy and security, evaluate these features in new IoT devices. The next section explains how.
How To Evaluate IoT Device Strengths and Weaknesses
When adding to your IoT collection, take the following steps to determine the strengths and weaknesses for security and privacy in IoT devices.
- Look for the capacity for strong, complex passwords and multifactor authentication.
- Ensure the software is regularly updated.
- Determine compatibility with your existing networks and devices.
- Request security reports from the vendor and ask for a third-party vulnerability test.
- Check to make sure the device is in alignment with IoT security standards.
IoT Benefits Win the Day
IoT capabilities come from common devices such as security cameras and equipment sensors. These and other devices can save time, increase efficiency, and ultimately improve security within an organization. The following video describes additional ways in which the IoT can improve businesses.
But users must also consider their disadvantages, including increased system complexity and—as we have been discussing—security and privacy concerns. For most businesses, the benefits outweigh the challenges, but safely integrating IoT functionality must involve being proactive about security aspects of the IoT.