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Overcoming Challenges in Securing the Internet of Things | @ThingsExpo [#IoT]

The Internet of Things is no longer coming – it is here

At some point in the near future, our alarm clock will ring when the biometric scanner monitoring our sleep indicates we have achieved optimum rest. Our clock will connect with the coffee maker, and a steaming cup of brew will be waiting, while the lighting system in our home gradually brightens to imitate a sunrise, waking us up slowly. We will leave the house listening to personalized news headlines and our connected (perhaps driverless?) car will route us the most efficient path to the office, where more connected devices (computer, printers, lighting and HVAC systems, security systems and more) will help the business save time, cut costs and increase efficiency.

All of these capabilities will be made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT). Connected devices are already mainstream and growing at an incredible pace; Gartner predicts 26 billion by 2020. But with all these devices and all the benefits they bring, we are being introduced to a much greater challenge: How can we keep not only the devices, but also the networks and databases they are connected to, secure?

When Gartner issued a report last year on seven potential IoT challenges, security was at the top of the list. It's no wonder since on any given day, thousands of new connected devices are introduced into the market, collecting, analyzing and storing data. Each new device brings more potential for data vulnerability and security breaches. After all, what do consumer appliance vendors know about security? Securing a refrigerator or a coffee maker seems trite, until you realize the other systems in the home it is communicating with - your security system, your personal network, etc. The same concerns translate into a business environment.

There are inherent risks and challenges associated with securing the IoT the one big question that remains unanswered today is who is responsible for its security?

Understanding What We Are Up Against
The IoT introduces dozens of challenges for application developers, users, businesses and network operators. Here is a quick look at we believe are some of the biggest issues:

Challenge #1: Sensors and devices are not built with security in mind.
The IoT is being built on the back of tiny sensors and they need to be:

  • Physically small to fit into many of the devices that they control
  • Memory small to not burn through battery life or incur increased wireless data costs that result from the increase in network communications overhead.

Neither of those mesh well with existing security solutions, most of which require significant processing power to operate. Therefore, the security falls to the application and the network, not the device. This is not usually an issue - until a device is compromised.

Challenge #2: Apps are not always being developed with a "security first" mentality.
In application development, there are numerous criteria to keep in mind: user experience, functionality, database management, and so on and security often falls too far down the list. Especially in the consumer space, apps can be developed by teams reporting into the device manufacturer. But what do companies that make refrigerators and coffee makers really know about security?

Challenge #3: We do not know quickly enough - and how to appropriately respond - when things do go wrong.
M2M and IoT systems collect data that allows companies to run advanced analytics, spot trends and make valuable connections that they can use to expand their businesses. However, sometimes things go unnoticed because applications do not constantly monitor activities on every level and respond accordingly by alerting administrators and potentially blocking the device from communicating with the server.

Challenge #4: Physical and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are difficult to stop.
If you consider how machine-to-machine communications and IoT has grown exponentially in vertical markets, it is not surprising that in many places where IoT technologies are used, such as power plants, perimeter security is not an issue. These locations are well staffed and guarded. However, in many cases, sensors are the eyes and ears for businesses when they cannot be present to monitor remote assets, such as mining operations, off-shore drilling, farming, ranching and more. How do you physically secure IoT devices used to monitor cattle or an irrigation system on a 2,000-acre farm?

DDoS attacks are also a threat. One of the benefits of the IoT is real-time access to data and analytics needed to manage day to day operations of businesses. A DDoS attack on an IoT system breaks that real-time connection. In this scenario you could have thousands of IoT devices trying to access a website or feed that has been compromised. They have data to report, but nowhere to report it. Not only will the devices get "frustrated," but so too will customers.

Challenge #5: Too many things have access.
A lot of attention is given to data security for protecting "confidential" data, especially in light of some of the highly publicized data breaches at major retailers and healthcare organizations. To some, that means credit card information, social security numbers, medical records and so on. But what about sensors used to open your car door, or home or business security system? When those are connected in the IoT, they are potentially vulnerable.

Challenge #6: Too many people/businesses have access.
Think about all the people you or your company does business with and imagine them having access to your most sensitive information, whether personal, financial, professional. In today's highly networked IoT environment, it is possible a hole exists somewhere waiting to be exploited, possibly through a partner or service provider's own network.

Taking Charge
According to research firm IDC, 90 percent of IT networks will be confronted with new security threats within the next two years, many deriving from interactions with the IoT. This will likely launch a new job title: IoT security manager. Unfortunately, that may not happen soon enough if adoption of IoT devices and applications continue their torrid pace. In fact, a recent study from HP Security Research reviewed 10 popular IoT devices that included cloud service and mobile applications; 70 percent were subject to serious security vulnerabilities, including poor authentication/password strength, lack of transport encryption, weak web interface credentials, and insecure software updates.

In this seemingly Wild, Wild West of the IoT - we are still in the early days, after all - how can we gain some measure of control knowing that there are significant vulnerabilities and challenges? Who is really responsible for securing the IoT? The reality is, it is everyone and everything. Trust and authentication capabilities are an absolute necessary across all elements of the IoT, including the devices, networks, the cloud and the applications.

Here are five ways we can take back control:

1. Chart a course for data encryption. Encryption is necessary for any IoT application that transmits sensitive information through the network, including mobile health solutions, point-of-sale systems, usage-based insurance systems used in vehicles and more. As discussed earlier, securing devices is a different beast and companies need to adjust their thinking from traditional network security. For example, developers may first look at SSL for secure communications, but SSL adds too much overhead by requiring additional processing power and memory, and the wireless data charges associated with encryption and decryption processing may be significant. Device-side encryption in the form of a VPN tunnel also might not be practical.

Creating a site-to-site VPN tunnel from the IoT operator to the backend server's network might be the most efficient and practical solution. This setup allows encrypted data to be transmitted across the most vulnerable part of the network path - the Internet. It also does not increase the amount of wireless data consumed because all encryption and decryption processing take place on the network appliance side.

2. Control access to your data. Consider closely who you allow to have access to your data and your systems, and then take a close look at every level in the technology stack, from the removable SIM card to the operating system to the hardware level. Security requires a methodical approach that leverages every element in the technology stack. Each require different thinking, and no single line of defense is sufficient. A stolen SIM, for example, could result not only in fraudulent data charges, but also could allow direct access to your backend application servers. Securing software is also important, and using secure over-the-air application updates can ensure authenticity and integrity of transmitted data.

3. Monitor at every layer. It is vital to assess security and monitor at every layer; it's the only way to know when something goes wrong. Once an event is detected, the device must trigger a responsive action that blocks the device from communicating with the server to prevent any malicious use. A back-end application can detect patterns in the data it is receiving, and should be able to spot abnormalities and alert the administrator. The site-to-site VPN tunnel between the application server and the IoT service provider has a fixed IP address, making it easier to isolate and disable the device if necessary. Your IoT service provider should offer alerting tools that can assist with fraud detection and prevention. For example, you can correlate GPS with location and timestamp information to verify positioning data, or monitor for malicious interference using digitally signed data messages between the device and IoT server.

4. Choose strong network partners. IoT applications require cellular connectivity to transmit data over three discrete networks: those of the mobile network operator (MNO), the M2M service provider and the Internet. That can be a lot to manage, so application developers and managers must ensure these third-party-managed networks meet the necessary security requirements. It is not a one-time thing; as requirements change, the needs of your applications will as well.

Start by asking questions of your partners, such as: Are all security and patches up to date across the network? When and how often are patches and updates made? Are Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and denial of service systems being used? What is the process for background checks on anyone with root access to servers and network devices? What level of security is required of anyone with access to systems, and how is that enforced? How frequently are root passwords changed?

5. Put security first. The security of your application should be a priority from day one. By identifying risks - and solutions - early on in the development process, you'll develop a strong protocol that can be followed throughout the application lifecycle, and especially during updates.

The IoT is no longer coming - it is here. We already know security will be paramount in introducing new devices and applications into the market. Securing them all is a tall task, but will be inherent in the future success of the IoT.

More Stories By Chris Francosky

Chris Francosky is VP of Systems Engineering, KORE. He has has an extensive background in technical leadership and project management in the wireless communications industry.

Leading all IT strategy and efforts during his ten years at RacoWireless (now a KORE Wireless Group Company), Chris oversaw dozens of large-scale wireless and mobile technology projects. Most recently, he directed the build-out of Raco's next generation M2M network and development of our device management portal, The Omega Management Suite™. He currently oversees a talented staff of software and network engineers and manages the day-to-day operations and security of three world-class datacenters.

Chris possesses experience in the areas of network security, disaster recovery/business continuity, location-based services, enterprise systems and massively scalable application architecture. Prior to joining KORE and RacoWireless, he served as network engineer at Cendant Corporation (now known as Trilegiant Corporation) and helped support several pioneering e-commerce websites.

Chris received a Bachelor in Computer Science from The Ohio State University.

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