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Security challenges implementing an IoT Infrastructure

Ever since the Internet’s inception, demand has been constant and the IoT industry in particular has seen significant growth. IoT devices have started to appear in recent years as a result of the need and expansion for smart gadgets, especially in areas where it serves as the primary mode of communication. We are exposed to various devices to ease our living, for instance, our smartphone has features like GPS tracking, adaptive brightness, voice, and face recognition, among others. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes into the picture, IoT allows us to gather and exchange data without involving any people by connecting common objects with electronics, software, and sensors to the Internet. The IoT sector is constantly evolving and for many sorts of applications, including medical, corporate monitoring, commerce, production, etc., various IoT infrastructures have been built during the past few decades.

Among other challenges like cost, ease of integration, connectivity, and others, security poses higher risks. Security is an attribute that influences the choice and design of every infrastructure element and it plays a vital role in IoT as they have specific security threats due to their unique characteristics and the way they interact with the internet and other devices. IoT combines a number of components, including hardware (e.g embedded sensors), software, data transport and storage (e.g cloud), network connectivity (e.g WiFi), and more. As a result, there are a number of vulnerabilities that can be used to gain unwanted access. Insecure default settings such as weak authentication and authorization, outdated components, physical attacks and insecure update systems are just a few examples of the vulnerabilities that attackers might exploit. Known network threats like denial of service (DoS) and spoofing can also affect IoT systems. Systems could be compromised via flaws in IoT device software and online apps. For instance, user credentials may be stolen from web apps or malicious firmware upgrades might be sent.

On a higher level, every IoT infrastructure will have some common components

IoT Infrastructure Elements

Sensors are devices that detect external information with a main purpose to collect data from the IoT device shared over the network. While most IoT systems have sensors, there can be some that don’t need them. For example, if you need to control a smart light using an app, you only need an IoT controller. Every IoT sensor is usually powered by a battery or external DC power source.Sensors are devices that detect external information with a main purpose to collect data from the IoT device shared over the network. While most IoT systems have sensors, there can be some that don’t need them. For example, if you need to control a smart light using an app, you only need an IoT controller. Every IoT sensor is usually powered by a battery or external DC power source.

Controllers use that data collected by sensors to make decisions and act like the brain of the device. It also performs onboard computations and storage. Today, IoT controllers are becoming more powerful in terms of storage and compute resources. This evolution is driving the popularity of edge computing, which moves storage and computation closer to data sources (e.g., IoT sensors).

Without network connectivity, a device is not an IoT device but just a standalone computing device. To create an IoT system, devices must connect to other devices. The network will provide connectivity, security and manageability at scale to IoT deployments. It is also the technology used for exchanging data with either other devices in the system, or the Cloud. The types of connectivity vary depending on the application, ranging from cloud connectivity to short-range local connectivity (e.g., BLE). Likewise, different network communication mediums will require different IoT hardware (e.g., Bluetooth, WiFi, or LTE chips)

The role of cloud computing in IoT is to work together to store IoT data, providing easy access when needed that includes computing, storage and gateway resources accessible over the internet. If IoT devices communicate with the cloud, one will need an IoT cloud platform.

Depending on the application, the cloud infrastructure may also need to interface with user-facing applications (mobile or web apps), to enable the end-users to visualize the data and send commands to the devices. Thus, user management (sign up, sign in, forgot password, data APIs, etc.) becomes another consideration for your cloud infrastructure. The device and the end-user application may be able to interact directly in some circumstances (particularly Bluetooth Low Energy apps) without using the cloud as an intermediary. Mobile and web applications that allow the user to interact with the IoT system and visualize the data.

As the number of IoT devices increases, you may also start deriving insights from the data that these devices are dumping on your cloud. Thus, data science and analytics evolve into a subsystem and start taking up infrastructure on the cloud. Over here, infrastructure can be in the form of ETL tools, data warehouses, machine learning resources, etc. The tools and resources (often on the Cloud) that enable users to derive insights from the data sent by the IoT system

While this covers the components or say devices in an IoT infrastructure but there are other factors to be considered while designing the infrastructure. Factors which include scalability, integrations, data aggregation, usability, connectivity and most importantly security. With each component there will be security concerns which will increase the attack vector on the network as a whole.

Challenges:

Implementing an IoT infrastructure presents several security challenges, including:

Device Security: Ensuring the security of individual IoT devices and protecting them from hacking and other malicious attacks is one of the primary challenges. Since there will be several devices in a network involving several vendors in some case, the security of each is of vital importance. If an IoT device is breached, this can act as a bridge to all other areas, the result of which can be massive. Device security includes other factors such as:

  • Interoperability: Ensuring that IoT devices from different manufacturers can securely communicate and exchange data.
  • End-of-life devices: Addressing the security risks associated with end-of-life IoT devices that may no longer receive software updates or patches.
  • Legacy devices: Addressing the security of legacy IoT devices that may not have the same level of security as newer devices.
  • Remote management: Securing the remote management of IoT devices and ensuring that remote access is only granted to authorized personnel.
  • Scalability: Ensuring the scalability of security measures as the number of IoT devices increases, which can create new security risks and vulnerabilities.

Network Security: Network is the backbone of IoT since IoT itself means interconnected devices over a network. Hence, securing the communication channels between IoT devices and ensuring that sensitive data is not intercepted or tampered with during transmission is a must. Common network vulnerabilities include:

  • Malware or malicious software, such as Trojans, viruses, and worms that are installed on a user’s machine or a host server.
  • Social engineering attacks allow network attackers to trick employees into accidentally handing out sensitive information like passwords or login credentials.
  • Unmanaged Software: It’s also plausible that the program has a Trojan horse, a virus, or other malware that might cause network vulnerabilities.



Data Security: As mentioned above, every IoT network deals with data in large amounts hence protecting the vast amounts of data generated by IoT devices and ensuring that it is stored, processed, and transmitted securely poses a challenge. Wherever possible, make certain that these are subject to multi-factor authentication protocols.

  • Injection of harmful code into databases-connected web applications is known as SQL injection. As a result, hackers can have unrestricted access to private information stored in databases.
  • Databases Without Security Upgrades: More than a third of assessed databases lack security updates or use outdated software. Most of these systems frequently lacked updated database security fixes.

 

Cloud Security: Almost all solutions today are SaaS oriented and many organization are moving into cloud; ensuring the security of cloud-based infrastructure used to store, process, and analyze IoT data can be a security challenge as many variables such as different cloud vendors, access management solutions in place, etc., matters a lot.

  • Identity and Access Management: A typical weakness in cloud systems is the lack of secure identity and access management (IAM). In a word, it happens when a user of your infrastructure or a service gets access to resources they shouldn’t and/or don’t require.
  • Public Data Storage: This vulnerability happens when a specific data blob, such as an S3 bucket or, less commonly, a SQL database, is partially or entirely made available to the public. The public then has access via either read-only or both read and write. Misconfiguration of a resource is a frequent contributor to this problem.
  • Lack of visibility: The size of your infrastructure grows together with the utilisation of cloud services.

 

Software Vulnerabilities: Protecting against vulnerabilities in IoT software and applications that can be exploited by attackers.

  • Outdated or bugged software might potentially infect a whole network if a weakness is discovered and exploited. Systems running applications without appropriate patching risk this happening.
  • Operating Systems with incorrect default settings or misconfigured firewalls: Default settings are commonly known and are simple to guess.

There are other challenges which are indirectly linked to the security challenges from an infrastructure perspective.

Insider threats: Insider threat is a constant risk factor associated in every organisation. Protecting against insider threats, such as employees who may intentionally or unintentionally compromise the security of the IoT infrastructure. 

Physical security: Whether it be security concerns on an infrastructure or software level, physical security is always a challenge which should not be ignored at any cost. There will be a constant need to protect IoT devices and their data against physical attacks, theft, or tampering.

Dependency on third-party services: Ensuring the security of third-party services and APIs used by IoT devices and addressing the risks associated with relying on these services which can affect an IoT infrastructure indirectly.

Human error: Addressing the risk of human error, such as employees who may inadvertently compromise the security of the IoT infrastructure by losing devices, using weak passwords, or clicking on malicious links.

Resource constraints: As far as resource constraints of IoT devices are concerned, such as limited processing power, storage capacity, and battery life, which can limit the ability to implement robust security measures which will open vulnerabilities.

Integration with existing systems: Ensuring the secure integration of IoT devices with existing IT systems and networks does not compromise the security factor should not be overlooked.

Maintenance and support: Providing ongoing maintenance and support for IoT devices and addressing security risks associated with end-of-life devices that are no longer supported can be a challenge and a potential risk.

Solutions:

These challenges require a comprehensive and multi-layered approach to security that includes secure device design and deployment, encryption of data in transit and at rest, regular software updates and patches, and secure access controls and identity management. They also require a proactive approach that includes regular security testing, robust access controls, encryption, and secure software development practices. To eliminate the security challenges of implementing an IoT infrastructure, the following steps can be taken:

  • Secure device design and development: Ensure that security is built into the design of IoT devices, with secure boot processes, secure storage, and secure communication protocols.
  • Encryption: Use encryption to protect data in transit and at rest, such as using secure protocols like SSL/TLS for communication and AES encryption for data storage.
  • Regular software updates and patches: Regularly update and patch IoT devices to address software vulnerabilities and security risks.
  • Access controls and identity management: Implement robust access controls and identity management to ensure that only authorized devices and users have access to IoT resources.
  • Network segmentation: Segment the IoT network from other networks to prevent the spread of malware and other security threats.
  • Monitoring and logging: Monitor the IoT infrastructure for suspicious activity and keep detailed logs of all access and events for future analysis and investigation.
  • Security testing: Regularly test the security of the IoT infrastructure to identify vulnerabilities and address them proactively.

By following these steps, organizations can significantly reduce the security risks associated with implementing an IoT infrastructure and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their IoT data. Overall, it is important for IoT device manufacturers and users to be aware of these specific security threats and take appropriate measures to mitigate them. This includes implementing strong authentication and encryption mechanisms, keeping firmware up-to-date, using secure network connections, and regularly monitoring and updating security measures.

How SecurDI can help

IoT being an ever-evolving sector and SecurDI strives to identify the needs and provide the necessary service in a manner that is unique to each customer since every environment is different from the other. We propose solutions that are more practical and efficient by taking into account the current environment of the customer. We have specialists with industry expertise and certification to deliver the finest service, and we can provide the best solutions for your digital security.