IoT devices are profitable products. But, with that comes a whole host of security risks you need to factor into your development. And the best way to tackle them is right from day one.
One and a half billion breaches affected IoT devices or software in the first six months of 2021. IoT devices collect a significant amount of data, so protecting against vulnerabilities and exploits is crucial. It’s not just the responsibility of the end-user. It should be a fundamental part of the design and architecture.
The first line of defense against security threats lies in the proper design and manufacturing of your product. So, with that in mind, let’s explore some common threats to IoT security, and how you as a software OEM can develop with them in mind.
Five threats to IoT security
The scale of IoT ecosystems makes them a prime target for hijackers looking to recruit them into botnets.
Botnets are often used in DDoS attacks, which can have disastrous consequences for businesses and manufacturers. And this can trace right back to vulnerabilities in your software and damage your reputation as a result.
Hardening your firmware and software security against hijackers helps prevent botnet recruitment via third-party modifications and unintended data payloads.
2. IoT ransomware
With IoT devices collecting and storing more and more sensitive information, ransomware becomes increasingly dangerous. In fact, the healthcare industry lost an estimated $25 billion to ransomware attacks in 2019.
Utilizing multi-factor authentication encryption helps devices resist packet sniffing, network penetration and man-in-the-middle exploits to protect against potential ransomware attacks.
3. Irregular updates and compromised access management
IoT devices and software updates frequently lag behind the capabilities of cyber attackers. Delaying security updates for users will only give hackers more time to locate a weakness.
But this isn’t all you need to worry about.
IoT access management is often lackluster. Shipping your devices with default hard-coded user names and password gives easy access to third parties. Prompting users to set up unique login credentials on setup helps to reduce the risk of the device being compromised.
You can also streamline the update process. Explore automatic updates that install vital security measures without impacting functionality for users. Alternatively, you can proactively communicate update availability to your users.
4. Physical threats
With strict regulations around securing sensitive data online, it can be easy to forget the most obvious risk of all: theft.
If IoT devices fall into the wrong hands, they can be easily tampered with.
“Hackers who physically gain access to an embedded system can try to steal sensitive data, inject malicious code into the system, attempt to gain control of the system, or clone the device.” - Embedded Computer Design
Combatting this issue goes right back to the design stage. Aim to remove easy methods of physical tampering and look into tamper detection that initiates defensive actions when the device's integrity is compromised.
5. Third-party dependencies
Any dependency from a third party—whether it's hardware or code—can introduce potential vulnerabilities into the system. According to VDC Research, the use of third-party commercial code in IoT products more than tripled in the last few years.
By implementing third-party dependencies, you’re putting your trust in another provider to maintain regular hardware and firmware updates and comply with industry regulations.
In response, you should evaluate your ability to hotfix third-party components or libraries without their assistance.
Protecting and maintaining IoT software
Those are the risks, but what can you do about them? Reliability and trust should be at the forefront of not just your development, but also how you respond to known vulnerabilities and exploits. Customers won’t trust a product in their house if it’s poorly maintained.
Here are some ways you can stay security conscious throughout your development and after release.
- Implement robust QC test plans with full test coverage of all hardware and software interactions. Make sure you include edge cases, as devices at the edge need to quickly process and make decisions based on the data they collect. This makes them a prime target for hijacking.
- Automate QC testing and test at scale. Increasing your test coverage and automating as much of your testing as possible helps you spot bugs with widened scope. It also minimizes the potential for human error.
- Sponsor bug hunts. Your users are going to find ways to exploit things in your devices that you probably never considered. Bug bounty programs offer recognition and rewards to users who report bugs and exploits, especially those that pertain to security vulnerabilities. Sponsor a bug hunt and see what your users can find.
- Monitor third-party components and libraries for new exploits. Third-party components and code should be high on your list of things to keep track of. Monitor your vendors and the components you use from them to spot any vulnerabilities. If you find any, make sure they’re patched up quickly.
- Monitor network traffic for anomalous patterns. Spotting and containing a breach before it can turn into a problem keeps malicious activity from spreading across a network.
- Proactively monitor update completion for any firmware or software on edge devices. We all know updates patch up security vulnerabilities, but it’s especially important for edge devices. They’re often a target for hackers due to their proximity to data sources.
- Implement strict security best practices internally around source control and access management. This is general development advice for locking down your code, but it's especially crucial for IoT.
Embed security into design
IoT has significant economic value potential according to McKinsey. And value attracts malicious activity to capitalize on it. With the Internet of Things shaping the world, security remains a foundational point of this technology’s success.
Ensure the security capabilities of your IoT devices and software by considering it right from the start of your development cycles. Embed it into the architecture. Consider it in every design point. That way you’ll provide solid functionality for end-users, with water-tight security to keep them safe.