What Is IoT Security? Benefits, Challenges, and Solution
A 2023 report by IoT Analytics projects the number of IoT connections to reach 29 billion by 2027, up from 14.3 billion reported in 2022. That's understandable when we consider the many use cases of IoT across applications like smart energy, fleet tracking, retail, waste management, traffic management, etc.
However, the increasing number of IoT devices also poses new security challenges. Consider this: Statista reported a whopping 112 million IoT-related cyber-attacks in 2022. This was significantly higher than the 56.95 million reported in 2020. Also, IoT devices aren't explicitly designed with security in mind. So, the chances of data breaches, device malfunctions, and other security issues cropping up are significantly high. Therefore, IoT security is immensely critical.
What Is IoT Security?
IoT security entails safeguarding IoT devices (like sensors, cameras, etc.) and the associated data from unauthorized access. This may include encrypting the connections, monitoring the devices, bringing in multi-factor authentication, and more. The primary aim is to mitigate risks and ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
Why Is IoT Security Important?
A report revealed that 91.5% of IoT transactions from 56 million monitored IoT devices lacked encryption, highlighting their vulnerability to attacks. The "interconnectedness" that IoT devices bring forth becomes the reason for an increase in the attack surface.
IoT devices house massive volumes of sensitive data pertaining to user's personal and financial information. Unsurprisingly, this data becomes a key target for cyberattacks — seriously impacting individuals, businesses, and even governments. Even the entire critical public infrastructure can come under serious threat of criminals. For example, electric grids, pipelines, perimeter fencing, etc., house various IoT devices for smooth information exchange. Any data breach across any of the IoT endpoints can give cybercriminals access to public infrastructure, which can then prove detrimental both socially and economically.
Therefore, IoT security is vital, as it protects data, devices, and the overall network. From using strong passwords and security settings to keeping devices up to date and using encryption, some fundamental security steps can ensure that data isn't compromised.
Benefits Of IoT Security
In 2017, Gartner projected that 25% of all cyberattacks would involve an element of IoT. Fast forward to 2023, and it won't be surprising to learn that the number would be extremely high — primarily due to the exponential growth of IoT connections. So, while IoT's strength is for everyone to see, there are security privacy challenges that can prove rather daunting. But there's a way to address them via a strategic and dynamic approach to security implementation.
Protects Data from Unauthorized Access
IoT devices like sensors, wearable technology, motion detectors, cameras, etc., capture data related to equipment, environment, proximity, temperature, visual happenings, automation, and more. Often, this data consolidates personal and confidential information. Effective IoT security ensures that strong security measures are in place to prevent unauthorized access and a subsequent data breach. This way, organizations are saved from severe financial and reputational harm.
Protects Devices from Malicious Attacks
IoT devices can be immensely vulnerable to malicious attacks, including malware, ransomware, and denial-of-service attacks. A lot of reasons contribute to such vulnerability, including:
- A lack of device management
- Limited computational capacity
- Untested firmware
- Lack of physical hardening
- Insecure data transfer and storage
By implementing the requisite security measures, organizations can ensure that all these issues get addressed, and that there are no security loopholes for attackers to exploit.
Maintains Device and Network Availability
IoT security can help maintain device and network availability by preventing attacks that can disrupt operations. This translates into better information exchange and proactive decision-making across the respective use case.
Reduces Compliance Risks
We discussed how organizations can prevent financial and reputational harm via robust IoT security. This is where adhering to regulatory requirements also becomes essential. Organizations that collect and process personal data are subject to a variety of state regulations. So, IoT security is paramount for them.
Builds Customer Trust
Research carried out by the Pew Research Center stressed that 81% of Americans are concerned about companies collecting their personal data. The study stressed how people are aware of the benefits, but the challenges of data collection outweigh these benefits in their view.
Favorably, by implementing IoT security, organizations can help address these concerns, nurture customer trust and loyalty, and improve overall satisfaction.
Challenges of IoT Security
There are many benefits to an effective IoT security framework. On the flip side, however, building such a robust security posture can prove exceptionally challenging. Here are some of the roadblocks:
Lack Of Built-In Security in IoT Devices
Many IoT devices are not designed with security in mind. They may have weak passwords or no authentication at all. They may also be vulnerable to known security flaws. This is because IoT devices often come with limited computational resources and constrained capabilities. Manufacturers may prioritize functionality over security, leading to vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit.
Uncontrolled Environments Where IoT Devices Operate
IoT devices often operate in diverse and uncontrolled environments. This means that they get exposed to a variety of threats, such as physical tampering, network attacks, and data breaches.
Insecure Data Storage and Management Practices
The data collected by IoT devices can be sensitive, such as personal information or financial data. However, this data is often not stored securely. IoT devices might store it in plaintext or encrypt it with weak encryption keys. This means that unauthorized actors can easily gain access.
Inefficient Security Update Mechanisms
IoT devices often do not receive security updates as frequently as traditional IT systems. This leaves them vulnerable to attacks that exploit known vulnerabilities.
But why is this the case? Well, IoT devices can:
- Be in large numbers
- Be at different locations
- Have hardware or software limitations
- Have limited computational capacity to accommodate security mechanisms
Such factors can prove detrimental for organizations to maintain consistent and reliable update mechanisms.
Steps to Implement a Concrete Plan to Strengthen IoT Security
As elucidated above, ensuring IoT security is rather complex — predominantly because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. No doubt, organizations must invest in forging a concrete plan that can address their specific needs.
The following six steps can help implementa concrete IoT security plan:
- Evaluate IoT device characteristics
- Educate the team about IoT security
- Create an incident response plan
- Establish a framework for access management
- Keep encryption as default
- Automate IoT security
By rigorously adhering to these steps, enterprises can bolster IoT security and successfully safeguard their data and systems from attacks.
With the increasing number of IoT devices and the associated security threats, enterprises must take concrete measures to ensure adequate IoT ecosystem security. But this is not straightforward. Challenges like uncontrolled environments, insecure data storage, and more can prove detrimental. It's here that a step-by-step approach to strengthening IoT security becomes critical.
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