Strengthening IoT security in an age of rising threats

The network of devices that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT) is profoundly changing how we interact with the world around us. The IoT is already bringing advanced capabilities to real-world applications, from connected cars and homes to smart utility meters and health monitoring. But as we marvel at its vast potential, it’s easy to overlook the numerous challenges inherent in the IoT—many of which revolve around privacy and security.

Like any IT system, IoT networks and devices are susceptible to manipulation and disruption, and risks range from breaches of confidential information to disruption of mission-critical operations. With glaring privacy issues, consumers are naturally concerned. According to a study by digital security company Gemalto, 90 percent of consumers lack confidence in the security of IoT devices.1 The absence of consumer control over data fuels additional anxiety.

Navigating new dynamics

The IoT collects and transmits data with a wide range of security requirements. Some data streams require minimal protective measures, such as operating data from a plant floor device. On the other hand, some data streams contain highly sensitive information, such as banking transactions or confidential medical records.

Another challenge is managing the diverse array of IoT hardware, software and network infrastructure. Adding to the complexity, businesses typically have a long list of suppliers, internal teams, partners, and even the consumer sharing responsibility for keeping various elements, infrastructure and devices safe and secure.

Bolster your defenses

As the number of devices and potential network connections multiplies, protecting vital data and systems requires a comprehensive approach. The ideal strategy is one that combines proven best practices with new advanced techniques. Here are seven tactics that can help put your IoT initiatives on a firm foundation:

  1. Segment networks. With network segmentation, each interface is assigned to a security zone before it can process traffic. Security teams gain granular control over who has access to what, allowing them to head off common IoT threats that thrive on easy proliferation across devices.

  2. Require authentication. Strong user authentication and access control mechanisms help make sure only authorized users can gain access to networks and data. To ensure reliability, rely on a trusted authentication platform to manage the process.    

  3. Lifecycle monitoring: Device monitoring tools can help verify the health of firmware and software at system startup, throughout operation and during delicate upgrade phases. Automatic updates should be enabled by default.

  4. Use encryption. Whether data is in motion or at rest, encryption is critical to safeguarding data. The use of both network layer and transport layer encryption can provide multiple barriers to network-based attacks.

  5. Secure APIs. API security is essential for safely moving data between devices on the network edge, back-end systems and core applications. Techniques should also be deployed to identify potential threats on these vital connection points.

  6. Threat detection. Advanced analytical techniques, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, can help detect abnormalities and vulnerabilities in ways that aren’t feasible with conventional network security techniques.

  7. Strengthen processes. While technology is the cornerstone of IoT security, it is imperative to be diligent on all fronts. Make sure your security policies and training procedures are clearly defined, regularly updated and consistently enforced.  

Striking an optimum balance

The IoT presents a world of opportunities and challenges for today’s data-driven businesses. As adoption grows, security and IT experts must address significant paradigm changes. Building an IoT environment that strikes the optimum balance between user accessibility and data security will be a major differentiating factor for customer-centric brands heading into the future.

1 “State of IoT Security: Security Takes a Back Seat,” Research Report, Gemalto, 2017. 

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