Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a world of multiple devices connected through the medium of sensors. IoT includes objects and entities (things) having unique identifiers that enable automatic data transfer over a network. IoT  has soon emerged as the preferred mode of communication due to computing devices and inbuilt sensors present  in industrial machines, smart homes, energy grids, vehicles, and wearable devices.

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The connected world offers host of business opportunities in the form of better quality of products, customer service, and huge volume of invaluable business insights.

However, IoT security is emerging as a primary concern for enterprises as they need to protect the confidentiality of the data produced from these connected devices. IoT is currently presenting potential security threats to enterprises. If left unattended, these threats could undermine our efforts to build a connected world. Additionally, it could also jeopardize enterprise data thereby harming individual’s privacy and safety.

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New Possibilities for Hackers

IoT devices have given rise to threatening vulnerabilities that brings up security issues that demand quick attention. Research has concluded that critical vulnerabilities occur widely among IoT baby monitors. The data can be leveraged by hackers to conduct nefarious activities; they can monitor live feeds, change camera settings, and authorize other people to gain remote access to the monitor.

Cars connected over the Internet are not safe as well. Hackers can control your car’s entertainment system, unlock doors, and shut down a moving car. Hence, the rise of connected devices increases the intensity of security breaches and higher possibilities of hackers targeting common people.

Wearable devices also pose a huge threat to data privacy because hackers can attack the motion sensors installed in your smartwatch and gain access to the typed information; they can also know about your health-related information from your smartwatch app/ fitness tracker device.
Unfortunately, the biggest threat of IoT security is faced by the healthcare sector; medical devices can be hacked that may have fatal consequences on the patient’s recovery process.

Risks associated with IoT

App development for IoT presents unique set of challenges. Industry expert Gartner predicts that 3 out of every 4 applications will be subject to cost overruns, schedule extensions etc. which will make the ecosystem unstable.

Some of the major challenges include:

  • Failure to address security needs: Enterprises generally do not consult security experts when procuring smart devices because primary focus is addressing business needs first. These devices are implemented without a definite strategy which makes them more vulnerable. The networking of these connected devices presents potential attackers a direct access to the critical systems and valuable private data, both personal as well as business data.
  • Difficult to secure: When you purchase smart devices, you do not have sufficient access to security features of the native operating system. It also means that IT professionals are working only on a limited set of features to provide IT security. Some applications do not provide any security features.
  • Data exfiltration: It is assumed that suppliers are rushing to adopt smart systems for their business because they want complete control over customer data. However, the actual reason why suppliers support networking of smart devices is the availability of invaluable data insights along with other important customer information that can help them provide customized products/services. Customers must be aware of what information is being used by the suppliers to maintain business transparency. Seek advice on preventing usage of particular information to avoid complaints of unauthorized customer profiling.
  • Schmupdate: IT enterprise solutions attach enough importance to the criticality of security updates. It turns out to be frustrating for users sometimes however now people have realized that software applications and operating systems are vulnerable. Regular updates helps address the critical issues of data security and privacy. Smart devices are embedded with insecure operating systems devoid of patching functions. Moreover, many devices do not come with updated OS that makes them more vulnerable.
  • Remote access: by default, vendors are satisfied with remote access of smart devices but do not feel the need of security patching. Failure to include standard features like anti-malware systems and firewalls makes your application a great playground for hackers.

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Passive Security Threats

Apart from the known vulnerabilities, passive threats occur when manufacturers collect and store confidential data of customers. The interconnected sensors gather data on the manufacturing servers for data processing and analysis. Hence, without being aware, customers share every piece of personal detail right from credit information up to extremely private details. The IoT device knows more about your life than you. For instance, FitBit, an IoT device collects data for assessment of insurance claims.

Data collection is on the rise and users must be aware about the long-term threats and risks associated with it. Significantly, we must pay attention to the indefinite data which is being stored in the third-party servers.

Private and confidential data stored on network servers attracts the attention of cyber criminals. Access to a manufacturer’s device gives the hacker access to user details of millions in a single attack.

Steps to Minimize IoT Security Risks

Securing IoT devices is an advanced level of security functions implemented by enterprises over past few decades. These measures include data encryption, firewalls, internal monitoring, and authentication of user identity. Such methods have emerged as vital building blocks of an overall strategy for securing the connected world.

Good security plans for IoT devices include the following essential elements:

  • Cloud InfrastructureCloud computing supporting IoT devices require security at different levels. Hence, a three-fold security approach works well; emphasis is given on maintaining confidentiality, availability, and integrity. Data exchanged between IoT endpoints, hubs, and cloud servers should be encrypted. Similarly data fed into IoT servers must be checked thoroughly to avoid malware and application breaches.
  • Best Practices: Cloud hosting requires same level of protection like IoT deployments. Enterprises must focus on following best practices and industry standards of security management by using robust security systems in different stages. Processes of security management complying with State legislations must be incorporated by companies. These regulatory standards ensure that service providers are capable of managing complex IT security measures like threat detection, security assessment, user authorization, data protection, and continuous monitoring of traditional as well as cloud-based IT systems.
  • Security Design: Security features in IoT applications must be incorporated early during the design and development process in order to eliminate attractive opportunities for hackers. Dynamic testing must be conducted before official release of the app helps identify possible vulnerabilities. Preventive measures include SQL injection, cross-site forgery and scripting, which are difficult to identify. IoT management servers depend on open-source applications and coding enterprises must attend to security of shared code.Security features of connected devices are similar to securing rest of the elements included in the infrastructure. Secure devices to avoid authentication-based attacks such as guessing password.
  • Secure IoT Apps & Services: Cloud hosting, a base for back-end IoT deployments poses a potential threat for enterprises. Improper design and configuration of cloud computing is vulnerable to attacks from external as well as internal data sources.

Minimizing IoT security risks, initial design processes require robust procedures; subsequent maintenance helps identify threats in third-party and core software libraries. Additionally, you must ensure that APIs integrated within IoT applications do not have any unauthorized accounts to gain administrative access of these apps.

Is something more required?

Enormous efforts are being made to protect the security of IoT applications and connected devices. However, we cannot be sure that enterprises can leverage this technology fully securely.

For instance, securing the gateways connecting these smart devices to company; manufacturer networks must be protected along with the devices as well. IoT devices undergo a one-time authentication process making infiltration easy. Hence, gateways must be secured to improve the system’s overall security.

Enterprises must focus more on securing IoT related data thereby protecting privacy of customers and functionalities of businesses.

Another area of concern is security of the data repositories. The IoT data is stored at various places that can fall a prey to malicious activities; corporate hackers rely on huge volumes of data in order to generate profits. Data breaches and identity thefts have been on the rise recently. Extra efforts must be put in to secure confidential data of customers and corporations.

Security We live in a world governed by connectivity. In many ways, it’s taking over our lives and we need to be prepared to embrace both the benefits and the dangers. For many of us, the word “Trojan” conjures images of the infamous battle whereby the Greeks stormed through the independent city of Troy. Yet in recent years, this word has come to take on a new meaning – ringing alarm bells to those of us that are tech savvy.

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In the same way that the Trojan horse became associated with danger during the Greek mythology days, at the beginning of the late 20th century, the word Trojan was applied to describe deceptively benign computer codes that seem legitimate – but are in fact, malware.

To this day, malware Trojans remain widespread. However, today’s internet users have the benefit of understanding these dangers and what can be done to avoid potential hazards. Yet, when it comes to connected devices, the same cannot be said. We are still surprised by hacks – because we aren’t prepared. This is why we refer to the Internet of Things (IoT) as the Trojan horse of our time. So – why aren’t IoT devices safer, and how can we rectify this?

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IoT and security: the challenge

We need to work to ensure IoT is safer, however, there are reasons that this is currently not the case.

1. Security is not part of the design process

Let’s think of why we buy IoT devices. It’s not because it is a comprehensively well-thought-out piece of technology, but because it amazes us with its futuristic features. The intelligent refrigerator or the IoT lamp do not reinvent the refrigerator or the lamp but enhance their abilities by making them smarter. This does not of course mean the same for industrial solutions, but many parallels can be drawn. User studies, as part of the design process, will always come to the conclusion that IoT is a new, fascinating market and the typical IoT users of the first hour seek novelty or usefulness over security.

2. Security would increase the price

IoT devices became attractive to the mass market. The average cost of IoT sensors is falling and by 2020 it is estimated to be about $0.38 (£0.28). Even manufacturers of specialised Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) equipment are in fierce competition with one another. Spending a lot of money on the development of better security features does not make sense for manufacturers. The industry wants to achieve favourable prices through mass purchasing.

3. Security isn’t the number one priority

It all comes down to a two-way attitude from users and manufacturers. We need to be talking about IoT security more – but, given its damaging to a business to slow down market growth, we don’t take the time to speak about it enough.

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IoT and security: the solution

IoT devices cannot be completely monitored. Even if the devices have been specifically deployed by a company’s IT department, traditional corporate security measures do not work. IoT devices can only be controlled to a limited extent by the IT team because they operate beyond their own closed systems. This means that to improve security, we need to consider three things that can help give us “peace of mind”.

1. Importance

We need to pay more attention to data. To secure our data, we don’t need to back up an entire IoT device. Instead, we need to look at the cloud to secure data from IoT devices. However, keep in mind that as soon as a mobile IoT device contains sensitive data, it will be a target to hackers. Not only this, but if an IoT system is managed by a central administration portal which is deactivated, it will no longer report on attacks to individual devices.

2. Trusted storage

IoT devices are predominantly mobile. The difficulty here lies in averting any malicious applications from them. One way to prevent this is by storing the device ID in a trusted area. This means you can decide who does and does not have access to communicate to the device – for example, by using biometric identifiers.

3. Look for radiation effects

Monitoring, no matter how sophisticated, cannot directly detect whether an IoT device has become the gateway to certain attacks. However, radiation effects can be identified. Via the network distributor, a monitoring tool can recognise when an unusually high amount of data traffic occurs. It can also be detected via pattern recognition if unusual traffic takes place in the network. A warning would then be sent to the system admin and the discovery of the device in question should proceed quite quickly.

We may still be at the beginning of IoT security, and we may still have a long way to go. But, if one thing is for sure, it’s that we need to be prepared or risk turning myth into reality as these Trojan horses attack.