How to secure IoT devices: Challenges & Best Practices

How to secure IoT Devices

With the growing population of IoT devices, knowing the key challenges and how to secure IoT devices is really important. IoT (Internet of Things) is the technology of the 21st Century that has revolutionized the entire world. From smart cars to smart TVs and healthcare, it has acquired it all. 

According to studies, the world will have 28.5 billion networked devices by the year 2022. The global market for the Internet of things (IoT) has reached $308.97 billion in revenue in 2021, and this figure may cross $1.8 trillion by 2028.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

IoT is a system of interconnected devices that can transfer data over a network without human interaction. Technology today has made it possible to turn from something as small as a pill to something as big as an Airplane into a part of the IoT.

Any object that uses an Internet Protocol (IP) address to transfer data over a network is an IoT device. IoT devices are computing devices that connect wirelessly to a network and transmit data on the Internet of things (IoT). An IoT component can be embedded into other industrial equipment, mobile devices, environmental sensors, medical devices, and more.

IoT devices include Smart TVs, Smart speakers, Toys, Fitness Bands, Wearables, and Smart Appliances.

Why are IoT Devices getting popular?

IoT devices use AI and ML to bring intelligence and autonomy to systems and processes, such as autonomous driving, intelligent industrial manufacturing, medical equipment, and home automation.

The demand for data privacy and user experience is increasing more and more day by day. Rather than using cloud-based approaches, industries are using on-device processing of data on the IoT endpoints. The Internet of Things (IoT) is successfully transforming various industries and sectors by bringing unprecedented levels of automation, intelligence, and connectivity, providing flawless performance that was previously unthinkable.

Today, different organizations use IoT to deliver enhanced customer service, improve decision-making, increase the value of the business, and operate more efficiently.

What are the challenges with IoT device security?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming an indispensable part of our daily life today. However, with the rapid increase in the number of smart devices, we can no longer ignore the risks they bring about in favor of benefits.

IoT was under vicious scrutiny due to security loopholes in recent times. In 2016, Mirai Botnet infected more than 300,000 IoT devices across 164 countries. Using the combined power of this network, the Mirai Botnet launched unprecedented and historic attacks on Brian Kreb’s legendary security blog and Dyn’s DNS infrastructure attacks in the same year. The numbers will only grow as IoT use increases and hackers become more familiar with the technology.

Below is a list of challenges that can make IoT extremely vulnerable to security attacks:

1. Lack of visibility

In organizations, many IoT devices are not registered in IT inventory records. That makes it challenging for IT teams to gaining visibility of all IoT devices in the network.

Appliances like smart coffee machines, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are not considered important enough to be tracked by the IT teams. Security teams can not prevent security breaches if they cannot see IoT devices connected to the network.

2. Lack of user awareness

Over the years, while Internet users have learned to avoid phishing, perform virus scans on their PCs, and secure their Wi-Fi networks with strong passwords. IoT is a relatively new technology. The most considerable IoT security risk is the user’s ignorance and lack of awareness of the IoT functionality.

As a result, users’ data and device security are at high risk. Social engineering attacks target users by leveraging the fact that a human factor is the easiest to bypass using the Internet of Things.

3. Insufficient testing and lack of updates

Insecure software or firmware is yet another dangerous source of IoT attacks. It is critical to update the software of IoT devices regularly to ensure security. It is even more important to update the devices once new vulnerabilities and bugs are discovered. Unlike smartphones or computers that get automatic updates, most IoT devices continue in service without the necessary updates.

IoT devices with outdated software are exposed to the prying eyes of countless Malware and hacker attacks. The device sends its backup data to the Cloud during an update since it will be on a downtime. There is a high possibility that the hacker could steal sensitive information if the connection is unencrypted and the update files are unprotected.

4. Lack of physical security

Hackers can make physical changes in IoT devices located in remote places for long periods. For example, an attacker can infect USB flash drives with Malware. Many IoT devices operate autonomously without any intervention from a user, but they need to be physically secure from external threats.

To make sure of the physical security of an IoT device is the duty of the consumer but doing it at a low cost becomes challenging. Users should take the responsibility to keep the IoT devices physically secured. A smart motion sensor or a video camera outside a house can easily be tampered with if not adequately protected.

5. Botnet attacks

A botnet is a network of malware-infected machines. Hackers use these infected machines to bring down a target by sending thousands of requests.

Since IoT devices do not get regular security updates like computers, they remain highly vulnerable to malware attacks. Hackers leverage this to turn IoT devices into infected botnets and use them to send vast amounts of traffic.

6. Industrial espionage

Privacy is a serious security issue when it comes to IoT. Many IoT devices collect user information as a part of their operation, which hackers can exploit. For example, hackers can take over a surveillance camera for spying and then use the video against its owner. They can collect sensitive corporate data and may expose or sell it.

They perform such attacks to demand ransom money. Spying and intruding through IoT devices results in an invasion of privacy. Sensitive information may be compromised and used against its owner.

7. Data Integrity Risks in Healthcare

With IoT, data is being transmitted, stored, and processed. Many IoT devices extract and collect information from the external environment, such as a smart thermostat, TVs, medical devices. These devices may send the collected data to the Cloud without any encryption.

As a result, hackers can access a medical IoT device and alter the data collected. Hackers can use such devices to send false signals damaging the health of patients.

8. Cryptomining with IoT Bots

Mining cryptocurrency demands CPU and GPU resources which could be comfortably done by using IoT bots. Much like Cryptojacking, this involves infected botnets aiming at IoT devices to mine cryptocurrency. IoT botnet miners have the potential to flood and disrupt the entire crypto market.

For more information about Bot Networks, please refer to our earlier article.

What are the various types of attacks on IoT devices?

The emergence of IoT has transformed the world in the last few years. Smart devices are coming out every day: smart toothbrushes, beauty mirrors, tables, pillows, beds, and the list continues to grow. The world has become a network of objects collecting our personal, sensitive information.

Hackers are always on the lookout to develop new ways to break into IoT devices. According to a recent Nokia Threat Intelligence Report 2020, IoT devices are now responsible for 32.72% of all the infections observed in mobile networks, up from 16.17% in 2019.

1. Physical attacks

Physical attacks occur when IoT devices are placed without any security measures, providing easy access to anyone. Many such cybersecurity attacks begin by inserting a USB drive to spread malicious code. It is crucial to add AI-based security measures to ensure the IoT devices are protected.

2. Data sniffing attacks

If the data in an IoT device is unencrypted, the hacker can sniff the data and misuse it for their benefit. Once encryption keys are unlocked, cybercriminals can install their algorithms and take control of your system.

Therefore, encryption is a must-have in the IoT environment as part of cybersecurity protection.

3. Man-in-the-Middle attack

A Man-in-the-Middle attack is when hackers intercept communications by breaching communication channels. The man in the middle begins communicating with both parties, giving it the name.

 The attacker has the original communication, and they can trick the recipient into thinking they are getting a legitimate message. These attacks are hazardous in the IoT network, causing a data breach.

4. Hijacking of IoT devices

One of the nastiest and dangerous types of Malware is Ransomware. Ransomware does not destroy sensitive files. Instead, it blocks access to them by way of encryption. The hacker then demands a ransom payment for the decryption key to unlock the files.

IoT devices with poor security become a common target of ransomware. Cases of ransomware attacks on IoT are rare. Such attacks can lock users out of IoT devices and related platforms and disable devices altogether and steal users’ data.

5. Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping is a type of attack where the hacker intercepts network traffic to steal sensitive information. Eavesdropping is possible because of a weakened connection between an IoT device and a server.

Eavesdropping is done by listening to an analog or digital voice communication or via the interception of sniffed data.

6. Privilege escalation attack

Hackers try to find bugs and weaknesses in IoT devices to access resources protected by an application or user profile. In this type of attack, the hacker uses his newly gained privileges to deploy Malware or steal confidential data.

7. Brute force password attack

In this case, hackers submit multiple passwords or passphrases with the hope of guessing the correct one to gain access to your IoT devices. Some software uses dictionary-based attacks generating all possible combinations of words, numbers, and special characters; hackers leverage such software to gain access to IoT devices.

Once the attacker has access to the IoT device, they can install Malware to steal business-critical data.

8. Data & identity theft

We hear gruesome stories of data breaches every day. They compromise the data of millions of people. Cybercriminals now target IoT devices, including smartwatches and smart thermostats, to gain information about individual users and organizations.

Once the attack on such unsecured devices is successful, they can access the company network. Using the access, they can infiltrate business systems and other company resources. These attacks can spread like a contagion. Cybercriminals leverage customer and employee data to inflict further damage.

9. Denial of service

Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks overwhelm systems by sending too many requests. DoS attacks can disable businesses, harm their productivity, and ruin the reputation of organizations. Cybercriminals launch attacks on IoT devices by flooding networks with requests and choke their resources.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is an attack where an extensive network of systems maliciously attack one target. Attackers typically use botnets to carry DDoS attacks.

10. Malicious node injection

In this case, attackers physically deploy malicious nodes in between legitimate nodes in an IoT network. Attackers can use these malicious nodes to control operations and snoop on the data flowing between linked nodes.

11. Remote recording

There are vulnerabilities in IoT technology that criminals leverage to record video or audio footage of victims. Organizations will be at threat of leakage of confidential information. An IoT camera may be secure, but other IoT devices with lower security protocols can give hackers what they need to infiltrate a network.

12. Home invasions

IoT devices are giving birth to the concept of “Smart Home”. However, it comes with the cost of broadcasting IP addresses with unsafe devices and inadequate defense mechanisms. Due to indigent defense, an attacker can locate the IP address leading to unlimited possibilities of abuse from theft to kidnapping.

The way to prevent this IoT security breach is by connecting through VPNs and securing your login credentials.

How to secure IoT devices

Any connected device can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Follow these tips to prevent potential attacks.

1. Use strong passwords and change them often

Changing passwords regularly for all internet accounts, computers, and mobile devices is mandatory. 

You should ensure that:

2. Don't trust cloud technologies blindly

Cloud is an emerging technology and used by millions of users all across the world. Although Cloud is a convenient way of storing data, it is pretty vulnerable, making it prone to attacks. IoT manufacturers provide cloud storage with every IoT device you buy. While it is enticing to use something free of charge, you should also consider:

  • You need an active connection to access data and files stored in the Cloud
  • An attacker can hack this connection while you’re accessing your cloud account

3. Secure your internet connection

The router is the gateway between IoT devices and the open Internet. If it is left unsecured, it provides an easy pathway to exploit by outsiders.

  • Change the username and password of the router. People are lazy; they tend to use default settings provided by the manufacturer. Typically Routers are named after the manufacturer or the network that you’re using.
    This could be a threat as it gives hackers a vital clue on how to gain access. We recommend avoiding using your name or address for Router name/password.
  • Do not use weak and predictable passwords. Create passwords containing a mix of letters, characters, and symbols.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi A public Wi-Fi is highly insecure and may compromise your IoT device. Avoid connecting to public networks; if you have to connect to a public network, use a VPN. VPN gives you a private, encrypted gateway to the Internet and stops eavesdroppers from being able to intercept your communications when you’re using public Wi-Fi.
  • You can also use a guest network for your IoT devices. If a hacker compromises one of your devices, they will be stuck in the guest network and won’t be able to control your primary internet access.
  • Always use a strong encryption method like WPA for Wi-Fi access.

4. Set a monitoring system

Organizations host elaborate networks of IoT devices and use them to run critical operations and analyze sensitive data. It is crucial to keep a close eye on the devices and data flow state to detect any abnormalities and prevent them from causing harm. A monitoring system is a holistic system that tracks your devices’ health.

It can send out alerts if any anomalies are found, such as unusual data flow, suspected unauthorized access, or connection to the Internet and other devices in the network. You can use open source monitoring systems like Prometheus and Grafana to monitor IoT devices.

5. Utilize network segmentation

The process of splitting an internal network into multiple, separate sub-networks is known as Network Segmentation. The segments can communicate with each other but stay independent and isolated from one another.

In the case of a successful cyberattack, the attacker gains access to the entire network. Network segmentation prevents this by limiting the attack area and minimizing damages. It allows users to focus on limited security resources on segments having the most critical data.

Please refer to the following link for more details about network segmentation.

6. Inventory IoT devices

IT teams need dedicated visibility tools like Network Access Controls (NAC) to ensure all the devices are safe and secure. IT team must have a detailed inventory of all network-connected devices. When a new device is connected to the NAC technology, it should automatically update the inventory and conduct the verification every month. By keeping track of all the IoT devices in an organization, the IT team can ensure security compliance.

7. Secure the IoT Network

By implementing traditional endpoint security features such as antivirus, network segmentation, anti-malware, firewalls, and intrusion prevention and detection systems, you can protect and secure the network connecting IoT devices to the back-end systems on the Internet.

8. Use Secondary Network

Wi-Fi users create multiple networks that include one with access restricted to themselves and their families. The approach of creating an additional network can be applied to IoT devices, as it helps to:

  • Prevent unauthorized access to your private files
  • Stop any attempts of hijacking IoT units and implementing Malware
  • Completely place the IoT device beyond the reach of any outside entity, protecting encrypted data

9. Authenticate the IoT devices

Hackers will constantly try to get their hands on personal information. Comprehensive device authentication is mandatory to secure IoT devices. Various authentication mechanisms are available for IoT devices, such as multi-factor authentication, digital certificates, and biometric. Additionally, you must ensure that unauthorized users cannot access their devices.

10. Use IoT data encryption

In the process of hacking the IoT network, the security gets compromised. The communication between IoT devices and interfaces like web apps and mobile apps should be encrypted to prevent data breaches. HTTPS, AES 128, and AES 256 are standard encryption protocols that you can implement.

11. Use PKI security methods

IoT Public Key Infrastructure security methods such as X.509 digital certificate, cryptographic key, life-cycle capabilities including public/private key generation, distribution, management, and revocation are used to ensure a secure connection between an IoT device & app.

12. Integrate IoT with SIEM or UEBA solution

It would be best to use Security analytics to determine security issues and vulnerabilities related to IoT devices. They help security teams identify and prevent potential threats by collecting and analyzing data from multiple sources.

Additionally, security analytics can identify malicious abnormalities in the network by correlating data from different domains. By combining all this valuable information, security threats can be effectively detected and prevented.

13. Secure IoT API

Use IoT API Security methods to protect the integrity of the data movement between IoT devices, back-end systems, and applications using documented REST-based APIs. Developers should ensure that only authorized devices, developers, and apps communicate with APIs and help to detect potential threats and attacks against specific APIs.

IoT security is a complex topic. Potential security breaches can come from several mutually exclusive sources. Since this technology is practically still in its infancy, both users and manufacturers are looking for the right solutions. There are still many risks and security challenges of IoT now, and more challenges will inevitably emerge in the future.

The more different IoT devices we see out there, the more complex IoT security problems will become. Whether you’re just getting started with the IoT or you’ve already implemented several devices, it is crucial to regularly perform cybersecurity audits to determine the ways to protect your IoT devices. When it comes to cybersecurity, be vigilant to stay one step ahead of hackers.

We hope you liked this information on how to secure IoT devices. We would love to hear from you, please share your thoughts and feedback with us. 

About Chaithra M.J

Chaithra M.J
A Software engineer, a Cybersecurity blogger and enthusiast, currently pursuing writing as an independent writer. Along with writing, Tech, Philosophy, Self-help, Chess and movies are her interests.

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