Rapid advancements and unchecked growth have turned a few burgeoning buzzwords into hot targets bursting at the seams with sensitive, valuable information. In that time, new tools for protection continue to emerge, but security professionals are still struggling to protect these devices.
Big data and the Internet of things (IoT) are transforming the way businesses capture and analyze data. While companies want to capture as much data as possible from anywhere they can find it, they’ve created a treasure trove for cyber criminals.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of things is the result of linking millions of internet-enabled devices of all kinds. Since the term was first coined in 2002, the popularity of “smart” devices has spread across all varieties consumer and business markets.
Even specific industries and commercial application markets have their own “IoTs.” It has grown so large that professionals in the health care world coined the “Internet of Medical Things,” referring to millions of “smart” (internet-enabled) devices used already. Industrial IoT has also carved out its own niche to describe the networks of internet-enabled manufacturing and production equipment.
From everyday appliances to factory equipment, the IoT has flourished as expected, turning everything with a battery into an internet-enabled device. It’s no longer just a concern for security professionals, but everyone from engineers and developers to farmers and doctors.
The Internet of Threatened Things
By 2020, more than 160 million IoT devices will exist in the healthcare world alone. That’s just a fraction of the total global expectation of 30 billion devices expected less than two years from now. Businesses have taken notice of the market growth, but many are heavily unprepared for the potential security vulnerabilities they’ve created.
While development and investment have steadily climbed, cyber attacks and new threats have maintained pace and scale. According to Sonicwall’s 2019 Cyber Threat Report, 2018 saw a 217 percent increase in attacks, compared to the year prior. That equated to a total of more than 32 million attacks, prompting a (necessary) boom in IoT security spending.
Malware targeting IoT devices is often used to hijack endpoints such as a smart fridge and baby monitors to industrial and medical appliances. The rapid growth of interconnected IoT devices has created a fractured landscape of devices connected to vulnerable networks and varying communications protocols.
IoT Security Risk Assessment
Hackers have historically guessed or hacked weak passwords to gain access to all kinds of systems – VoIP networks, payment processors, web hosting servers, and many other local and cloud hosted platforms. They can also attack vulnerable network protocols and seize large pools of endpoints or bypass authentication through an unsecured cloud and mobile interface.
The goal for security professionals working with IoT devices is unifying standards for password management, network services, interfaces, and hardware. If businesses fail to protect sensitive information, emerging privacy legislation across the globe may hurt them as much as an attack hurts their reputation.
One way businesses can improve their security posture is to follow a continuous security and compliance framework. The core components of this should include process documentation, risk and threat collation, and compliance guidelines. These components must then be applied to everything requiring protection from data and devices to networks and production systems.
In all, the emergence of IoT has created a lot more work for the already undersaturated cybersecurity workforce. Luckily, major vendors are releasing general risk assessment solutions as well as IoT-specific risk assessment solutions. This is being done while the IoT Security Foundation has developed a framework and checklist that includes preliminary assessment guidelines.
Multi-Layer Security & IoT Devices
Eventually, the goal is to program security capabilities into every level of a system from the operating system to the endpoint. In the meantime, companies building IoT enabled devices should be sure their software, firmware, and communications equipment are all secured.
Many IoT devices are equipped with weak cryptography and passwords. As a result, businesses running IoT devices must ensure their endpoints are secured beyond the corporate firewall. Most IoT devices run wirelessly so communications protocols beyond factory settings are the first step to ensuring protection.
Embeddable systems running stripped-down operating systems are one way professionals are improving protection. Embedded systems are typically single-purpose computers completely enclosed by the object it’s connected to. They won’t actively protect a device, but they will prevent it from changing functionality without specialized upgrades.
Authentication requirements can make it more difficult to gain network access and two-factor authentication is always a stronger option, for highly sensitive systems. Encrypting network communications and stored data are also basic necessities.
The cloud makes things more difficult since service providers are the first line of defense. Connections between services, devices, and applications must be encrypted as well. Still, proper API management and monitoring can help identify abnormalities and optimize performance.
Big Data & IoT Security
The big data onslaught has created a number of problems, largely as the result of increased amounts of data in transport. It’s significantly easier to secure information stored on a local server, but much more difficult to secure the communications channels of hundreds of devices transmitting simultaneously.
Security professionals are forced to manage a growing attack surface while ensuring that data from more and more incoming and outgoing sources remains safe. The data-centric security software market is an expanding subsect of the security world with an emphasis on proactive data discovery and auditing capabilities.
Data-centric security tools provide real-time visibility-sensitive data across multiple sources. They also document changes and user access to discover abnormal and potentially harmful actions. These tools can also benefit businesses in terms of maintaining compliance. Businesses can discover and tag sensitive data, audit systems, and enforce access control policies.
Trends in Network IoT Security
Network security is the first to be impacted by IoT security. Smart-device networks and connections were inevitably compromised leading to a demand for solutions. Access is key for network security and ensuring proper protection requires sophisticated authentication.
Two-factor authentication is a step in the right direction. Two-factor authentication requires an SMS code or security key in addition to passwords. But adaptive, contextual-aware, and risk-based authentication technologies are becoming more popular.
These tools take into account multiple variables analyzed through machine learning algorithms to calculate risk. This can typically improve protection without hurting user experience as this analysis is conducted in the background without requiring user interaction.
Strong encryption is another widely-discussed solution to network security issues. In the event a network is compromised, data will not be visible to threat actors. Layering encryption between network and transport layers can further protect businesses from network-based attacks.
Securing the Internet of Everything
Securing the IoT has created a ton of work for security professionals and will continue to do so as autonomous cars and intelligent medical devices become more common. It will be important to secure all connections to these “things” and protect them at all layers.
Companies should be certain their networks are safe and that cloud service providers are doing all they can to protect information. Consumers, on the other hand, must be vigilant in protecting their privacy while ensuring their routers, computers, and smart devices are properly equipped.
Big data and interconnected endpoints aren’t going away any time soon, luckily businesses are being forced to protect both their reputation and your information.
Aaron Walker | Aaron is a Senior Research Specialist at G2, focusing on cybersecurity, information technology, and software development issues. You can follow more from Aaron on Twitter @AmonteWalker