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Security Tips for Configuring IoT Devices

iot-security-environment-stforumAre you thinking of buying a new Internet of Things (IoT) device or you already own such an appliance? You might have heard of the risks attributed to these products, this is just one of the reasons why owners and administrators need to carefully review all security options. Read our guide here to learn more about these issues and how to amend them.

Why the IoT Security Matters

Internet of Things has become something much more than a niche product to one of the fastest growing technology trends. Ten years ago most appliances with IoT capabilities were mainly marketed at individual consumers. And now more and more companies have started to use expensive, extensive and feature-rich solutions to protect their facilities. The IoT infrastructure is made up of dozens of connected electronics, sensors and software that build up the core system. One of the key aspects of this type of technology solutions is the rapid transfer of data. By presumption this has got to be made in a secure manner.

All we all know the term “security” can mean several different things and for the purpose of this guide we need to elaborate more on the actual requirements for a safe IoT setup. There are several key aspects that we need to take into consideration:

  • Secure Transfer – This is one of the most important properties of a good setup. All external communication, that is flow from the internal to the external network (The Internet), needs to be made in a secure manner. This involves not only authentication but also the use of a strong encryption cipher.
  • Software Support – Security researchers identified that this is one of the major weaknesses of the IoT devices. There are several reasons why this is a fact, we will focus on this topic a bit further down in this article.
  • Data Integrity – Security measures that protect the core software and all critical modules from tampering.

Its surprising that most appliances on the market today feature some kind of a problem that is usually found to be in one of the core aspects of the security implementation. And this can lead to severe consequences.

What Could Go Wrong with IoT Security

Security weaknesses, bugs and improper configuration of the devices can lead to several severe scenarios – hacker attacks, network intrusions and malware infestation of the victim network. Most Internet of Things devices are connected to the secure internal network where computers, portable devices and other appliances freely share their resources. Here are just some of the bad case scenarios that we can name:

  • Data Theft or Manipulation – Most IoT devices employ some kind of a sensors that collects and sends data over the network connection. This may include sensitive information such as security footage, live control function information or other important information. If weak security is employed then the data stream may be intercepted. Imagine what would happen if a remote attacker gets hold of your home security zones, video surveillance camera streams and access times. As the IoT devices often remain unsecured by the device owners we have seen many scenarios where even the seemingly small devices can pose a menacing threat to both the user and the network.
  • Intrusion Attack – Hackers can gain access to the network via software vulnerabilities in the IoT device. This is especially true if the appliance has some sort of an Internet server capability. The owners need to be reminded that various software are used in the overall platform. This means that they have to regularly check for updates and security patches. The majority of intrusions are made by hacker attacks launched on older software installations.
  • Malware Infections – Once the hackers have found a weakness in the IoT device then can use it to spread dangerous malware threats not only to the device itself, but also to other hosts that connect to the appliance. This may result in network attacks bearing viruses and file alteration that deliver the viruses by posing as legitimate and authentic files.

Best IoT Security Practices

There are several guidelines that all IoT device owners should follow to protect their networks and hosts from hacker intrusions and other security threats. The best thing about all of them is that they do not require large amounts of time investments which is often brought up as a reason not to employ all measures. Depending on the environment there may be some differences in the scale of configuration changes, however we will present the more general tips which should provide adequate security against most threats.

  • Minimize Non-Critical Network Exposure – This is actually one of the simplest ways to minimize hacker attacks. This is also one of the easiest measures that device owners can implement. This policy mandates that all unused features and services that the user does not use should be switched off. If the device is a non-critical one (important services do not depend on it) it can also be switched off when not in use. A good firewall setup that prevents administrator access from external networks can protect against brute force attacks. Devices that serve important functions can be segmented into another zone from the primary work or home network.
  • A Thorough Setup – Many intrusion attacks are carried by using two popular methods – brute force and dictionary attacks. They act against the authentication mechanisms of the appliances. System administrators can enforce a strong password policy and measures that defend against brute force attacks by adding intrusion detection systems. Using secure protocols is also a good idea – VPN and SSH with a proper security configuration.
  • Security Updates – Not providing security updates to the owned appliances is probably one of the biggest problems that lead to intrusion attacks. It is important to perform regular updates, click to learn more.
  • Implement Additional Security Measures – When IoT devices are used in a corporate or production environment there are several ways to strengthen the security. These include penetration testing, proactive network management and analysis methods.

All of these methods provide good security measures that can help in protecting not only the IoT devices in questions, but the whole network in general. For more information on the topic you can read this guide.

Remember, the weakest link in every security infrastructure is the human operator – if a competent administrator has taken the time to secure all appliances and hosts on a network and has provided a good security policy, then most hacker attacks should be easily avoided.

Editor’s Note:

From time to time, SensorsTechForum features guest articles by cyber security and infosec leaders and enthusiasts such as this post. The opinions expressed in these guest posts, however, are entirely those of the contributing author, and may not reflect those of SensorsTechForum.

Martin Beltov ( Guest Blogger)

Martin graduated with a degree in Publishing from Sofia University. As a cyber security enthusiast he enjoys writing about the latest threats and mechanisms of intrusion.

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