The Internet of Things (IoT) is a catchall term that includes all the smart devices and connected things that we’ve become accustomed to in the 21st century. It’s a great way of isolating software infrastructure from physical hardware, but separating the two highlights some crucial Internet of Things security vulnerabilities and challenges that you need to be aware of.
Embracing the Internet of Things
Just like the software systems that drive them, modern smart devices are also susceptible to a myriad of different vulnerabilities and challenges. Understanding and overcoming these obstacles is the key to strengthening IoT implementation—both now and in the future. This trend will undoubtedly steer IT security in the coming years.
Our guide highlights the top IoT challenges and issues while providing you with helpful tips on overcoming each one.
- How to determine if your device is part of the IoT
- How to classify IoT security challenges
- How to safeguard your network against vulnerabilities and challenges
- How to overcome the most significant IoT vulnerabilities
With a basic knowledge of common Internet of Things security vulnerabilities and challenges, your organization can better protect against threats to this subclassification of IT infrastructure that’s growing in its importance.
What is an IoT Device?
The IoT comprises billions of smart devices currently in use today. Although it is a somewhat vague and generic term, it’s generally used when referring to devices that don’t traditionally utilize an internet connection. As analysis capabilities expand, these devices are now leveraged for the data they can record and the ability to optimize their use.
A home thermostat that connects to the internet and automatically adjusts the temperature based on the current weather is a prime example of a modern IoT device.
But there is often confusion surrounding IoT devices. For example, some common devices that aren’t technically classified as IoT devices include:
- PCs and laptop computers – Although they’re often wrongly classified as such, modern PCs and laptops aren’t considered IoT devices. There are several reasons for this, but it’s primarily due to the fact that PCs and laptops are not autonomous. Since they require human interaction, and as most aren’t transmitting data around the clock, these devices are generally not classified as IoT devices.
- Smartphones – Like PCs and laptops, smartphones are often mistakenly considered IoT devices. Since most consumers expect their smartphones to connect to the internet and require human interaction to do so, smartphones are not classified as IoT devices.
- Smart televisions – Smart TVs exist in the grey area between IoT devices and non-IoT devices. While they should be considered the same as PCs and laptop computers, and since most TVs aren’t left continuously running, they technically don’t count as IoT devices.
- Bluetooth speakers – Bluetooth is a wireless technology. Although there are IoT-enabled speakers, and some of them even feature Bluetooth connectivity, the presence of Bluetooth technology doesn’t automatically mean that your speakers are a part of the IoT.
To add to the confusion, IoT sensors—which collect and transmit data—can be embedded in or affixed to nearly any object or device. Sensors are typically used in enterprise settings, particularly production and manufacturing environments, to track and report performance data. Doing so allows employers to affix sensors onto individual components within an assembly line, ensuring that quotas are met on a timely and consistent basis or providing the data to adjust accordingly.
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Classifying Vulnerabilities and Challenges
The most common IoT challenges and issues cannot be lumped into one category. For your team to properly address the obstacles, it’s critical that you categorize each threat appropriately. This makes it easier to prioritize tasks, delegate assignments, and overcome any immediate challenges and vulnerabilities.
- Human errors – Often highlighted as the weakest link in any IoT network, the human users of these smart devices can easily create holes for hackers to exploit—whether the user realizes it or not.
- Network vulnerabilities – These IoT security challenges affect your IoT network itself, particularly network connectivity. Misconfigured firewalls and open wifi ports are examples of network vulnerabilities.
- Process roadblocks – These vulnerabilities usually stem from your organization’s internal policies and procedures or, in some cases, a lack thereof. Failing to require strong passwords from your IoT users is an example of a process roadblock or vulnerability.
- Operating system challenges – Although this vulnerability technically affects software instead of the physical device itself, cunning hackers can exploit operating system vulnerabilities to access and, if successful, cause severe damage to an IoT-connected device or network.
Although it’s not strictly necessary to classify each challenge, it’s especially beneficial when implementing comprehensive security measures to protect your systems and architecture. It can also help you distinguish between IoT-specific vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities that exist elsewhere in your network, including software-based threats like viruses and ransomware.
Protecting Your Network From Vulnerabilities and Challenges
Most IoT challenges and issues are easily diagnosed and overcome with the same or similar tools and strategies used when securing traditional networks. This includes network firewalls, regular vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, strategic device management, and more.
Although they’re sometimes overlooked in regards to the IoT, network firewalls are still your first line of defense against external hackers and other malicious actors. They’ll use many of the same tactics, whether trying to gain entry into your cloud or IoT network, and most don’t really prefer one over the other. Unless they’re attempting a highly targeted attack for a very specific reason, you can still use your traditional network firewall to detect and block many IoT-specific attacks.
Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing
Traditional network vulnerabilities can give hackers access to your IoT-enabled devices, too. As a result, vulnerability scans and penetration tests are still effective when detecting and preventing IoT challenges and issues.
A dedicated device management protocol will streamline your IT department’s job in various ways. Recent reports have highlighted some significant issues with device management at major retailers and healthcare organizations, including the fact that more than half of them are currently unaware of the smart devices that are–or aren’t–connected to their network.
Additionally, 86% of healthcare IoT networks included more than ten devices that had explicitly been recalled by the FDA.
Monitoring all of your organization’s devices, especially those connected to the IoT, is the key to maintaining complete network security. This is especially critical in remote work and BYOD (bring your own device) environments.
Identity and Access Management (IAM)
Certain Internet of Things security vulnerabilities can be overcome with comprehensive identity and access management. Although it often goes hand-in-hand with device management, identity and access management is much more expansive and dynamic.
Identity and access management (IAM) identifies and manages the types of data that various accounts can access. Most often, IAM governs user accounts associated with a specific individual. However, IAM can also oversee “service accounts,” which provide identification and user account functionality for services or devices within the broader IT environment.
Common data types that IAM governs access to include:
- Non-sensitive data – This covers public data and information that wouldn’t otherwise harm your organization. Public reports and presentations are generally included in this category.
- Sensitive data – This data is your topmost concern. Keeping this information out of the hands of hackers and malicious actors is your biggest priority.
- Device data – This comprises any data that is created or collected from a device or service. The data is used to identify, connect, log activity, create profiles, and perform analysis and predictions.
Overcoming the Biggest Internet of Things Security Vulnerabilities and Challenges
Given the infancy of the Internet of Things, many users still suffer from some common issues. Some of the biggest and most common Internet of Things security vulnerabilities and challenges include weak user passwords, insufficient network security, outdated systems, and more.
Weak User Passwords
Users who create weak or easily guessable passwords pose significant Internet of Things security risks. Thankfully, this is one of the most straightforward vulnerabilities to diagnose and rectify. To ensure your users are utilizing strong, complex passwords that are difficult to crack, consider the following requirements:
- Users should use a combination of alphanumeric characters
- Ensure all passwords are at least eight characters in length
- Require users to change their passwords at consistent intervals
Maintaining and enforcing simple policies like these goes a long way in protecting your IoT network users and their passwords. Additionally, “passphrases” generally achieve a sufficient credential length that makes infiltration much more difficult but are easier for users to remember. Many systems also allow administrators to configure complexity requirements that enforce minimum password difficulty thresholds; the vulnerability is minimized by their next credential reset.
Insufficient network security is a boon for hackers trying to access your IoT devices. They’ll exploit common network weaknesses and vulnerabilities, including scanning for open or unprotected ports and other known exploits.
Maintaining updated network security is the solution to keeping hackers at bay. Ensure that your IoT network is protected with a firewall and that all of your infrastructure is up-to-date with the latest patches direct from the manufacturer or developer.
Data Storage and Transfer
Many IoT challenges and issues occur during data storage and transfer. With so many moving parts involved, there is a much greater risk that something will go wrong.
One of the primary issues comes from the lack of encryption. To ensure complete protection, any sensitive data should be encrypted at all times—whether “at rest” (i.e., during storage) or in transit. Failing to encrypt this data, or using a weaker encryption algorithm, makes it easier for hackers and malicious actors to access your system. Organizations should also remember that encrypting data requires establishing cryptographic key management practices.
Outdated or Unpatched Systems
Despite the risks, some organizations still use outdated or archaic technology. Although this trend is waning, partially due to the dawn of the Internet of Things and our increasing reliance on technology and data as a whole, many organizations still fail to deploy patches when they’re released to address discovered vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, unpatched systems are amongst the top targets for modern hackers. While most developers quickly patch security vulnerabilities and holes as they’re discovered or announced, some hackers strike before the patch has been downloaded and installed (i.e., exploiting “zero-day vulnerabilities”).
Missing Privacy Protections
Today’s privacy protections are meant to protect consumers and organizations alike. Standards like HIPAA or, in the European Union, the GDPR, provide clear guidelines and regulations regarding the storage and usage of personally identifiable information. This includes:
- First, middle, and last names
- Home addresses
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Credit card or checking account numbers
- Social numbers
Failure to abide by the applicable standards could compromise your entire network. It could also leave your organization open to legal repercussions.
Human Knowledge and Expertise
People’s general lack of IoT knowledge presents a vulnerability in its own right for many organizations. Although the workforce is becoming more security conscious every day, they still have a long way to go before they catch up with the expertise of today’s hackers.
As an organization, the best thing you can do is educate your employees on Internet of Things security when conducting periodic training sessions. Reiterate the importance of strong user passwords, data encryption, and data privacy at every opportunity. If necessary, schedule additional, dedicated, and hands-on sessions and exercises to inform them of documented policies and processes they can reference to know precisely what to do if an emergency occurs.
Default System Settings
Most IoT-enabled devices come with preconfigured settings direct from the manufacturer. This is meant to make the initial installation and verification as painless as possible, but these default settings—including any admin or superuser passwords—should be changed before the system goes live.
Remember: hackers have access to these default passwords and configurations, too, and they won’t hesitate to try them out on your system. Additionally, if your organization collects, processes, stores, or transmits credit card data and is subject to PCI DSS compliance accordingly, all default configurations and settings must be changed according to the frameworks’ Requirement 2.
Securing Your Internet of Things Network
The IoT provides a clear and straightforward means of implementing, maintaining, and securing modern smart devices. However, since it affects everything from consumer-grade smartwatches and home appliances to large-scale network servers and the industrial machinery that’s currently powering today’s smart factories, the top Internet of Things security vulnerabilities and challenges can’t be ignored.
Thankfully, many of the cybersecurity measures your organization already utilizes can also protect IoT devices.
For more information on the IoT, implementing comprehensive security architecture, and managing threats and vulnerabilities, contact RSI Security today.