What you need to know about IoT device security right now

May 1, 20194 minute read

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There’s no denying the allure of IoT devices, but don’t let the impressive opportunities they represent distract you from the IT security risks they introduce. If you’ve considered deploying these devices within your environment but fear they could turn your network into an instant haven for darknet threats, you’re not the only one—and you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s take a look at why these devices have the reputation of being risky and, more importantly, how you can mitigate any potential dangers they could pose to your systems.

What’s the problem?

You may be wondering: Is IoT really worth the potential security risks? In a word, yes. Despite possible dangers, IoT devices can grant your environment a greater degree of intelligence. By connecting otherwise “dumb” devices to the internet, you can unlock more than a few awesome benefits, including:

  • More data
  • Better analytics
  • Increased control over your environment

But while these benefits can offer many opportunities for success, they can also open up inherent vulnerabilities, including:

  • More potential attack vectors
  • Increased system complexity
  • Greater risks related to privacy and compliance

At first glance, these may not seem so different from the threats associated with adding any other device to your network. The difference with regard to IoT lies in the quantity and obscurity of the connected devices—not to mention their propensity for living on the fringes of firewalls and networks that may connect to critical infrastructure.

How do you solve a problem like IoT security?

Now that you have a general understanding of what risks IoT devices bring to the IT security paradigm, how can you go about mitigating them? This is, after all, a problem worth solving for the sake of bolstering your organization’s capabilities. Consider the following solutions:

For the issue of increased attack vectors: This one’s pretty easy to understand. The more connected devices you have in your environment, the more paths there are through which potential threats can enter. How can you mitigate these risks while still investing in the future of IoT?

You simply need to start small. In other words, you should begin with the individual devices that make up your IoT fleet. Each of these “pathways” should have localized features that handle access control and threat detection. This will likely require secure authentication measures that screen the permissions of any users who wish to access the given devices, as well as an active, local agent (think malware detection) that constantly scans inbound transmissions for potential attacks.

For the issue of increased complexity: To save IT staff from working overtime at wrangling a growing fleet of faceless, connected devices, make sure you’re taking full advantage of autonomous capabilities. Take the time sooner rather than later to configure all the self-monitoring features you can—after some initial setup steps, many new devices can carry on unassisted, decreasing complexity even as the number of devices grows.

Let’s use printers as an example. These office tools are a necessary component of business, and most workplaces have several of them. As these devices get smarter and more numerous, it’s more important than ever to protect them from dangerous intrusions. Fortunately, the best printers come with built-in security features to detect and self-heal from malware, as well as the ability to self-manage.

These printers can determine their own configuration instructions on boot and automatically report on their activity to IT—long story short, you should never have to wonder whether your IoT devices are up-to-date and configured correctly. Timely updates and optimizations should be ensured by automatic processes, and your devices should be able to notify you when something is amiss.

For the issue of increased risk related to privacy and compliance: Compliance has always been and will always be a big deal in IT security. Any data that will pass through or be stored in your IoT devices must remain inaccessible to hackers.

The name of the game here is encryption of data—both in transit and at rest. Any new devices you add to your network should be able to utilize industry standard secure protocols for communication. It’s worth noting that many standard IoT protocols, like Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT), aren’t inherently secure, as CSO Online points out. For this reason, you’ll want to look for devices that either maintain their own encryption of data at all times or leverage encryption at the transport layer.

In the end, effective IT security and the presence of IoT devices aren’t at odds; all that’s needed for the two to coexist is a little foresight when you add to your fleet of devices. With the right safeguards in place, you can manage complexity, plug attack vectors, and mitigate risk without losing a wink of sleep.

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