How to Secure IoT Devices Accessing Your Network

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How to Secure IoT Devices Accessing Your Network

Why Internet of Things devices are so difficult to secure—and strategies for protecting your network

It’s starting to become hard to remember a time without the IoT (Internet of Things). Nowadays, so many devices and appliances are connected online that we don’t even think about how seamlessly everything is integrated.

By the end of 2020, it’s estimated that as many as 20.8 billion devices will be connected to the IoT. 40% of them are in the healthcare industry alone.

These devices are ubiquitous, which means that insecure equipment poses a significant security threat to IT professionals trying to protect their networks. Many devices lack the protection associated with normal vectors, leaving them vulnerable to attacks.

Knowing why IoT devices are difficult to secure and the steps to take to overcome these weaknesses put network teams in a position to anticipate threats—and to properly secure the devices connecting to their networks.

What is the IoT?

Simply put, the Internet of Things is a collection of networked devices that are used to gather information. This group is typically divided into three categories; devices used to gather information and send it, devices used to send and receive information and act on it, and devices used to do both.

Devices used to gather information and send it mostly fall into the sensor category. Alarm sensors, light sensors, temperature sensors, etc. are all busy gathering data and sending it back to a central database for evaluation.

Devices that sent and receive information and act on it are what most people are familiar with in the IoT space; smartwatches, smartphones, printers, etc. They receive an input via Wi-Fi to perform a certain action. This could include anything from setting an alarm through a mobile app to sending a design to a 3D printer.

IoT devices that do both are contained systems that can take in outside information and make decisions about future events. They then send that information back to a database to feed an algorithm that improves the process.

These devices have vastly changed and improved the way the world operates in both business and daily life. People are more interconnected, processes are faster, and systems are smarter because of constant information gathering.

Why securing IoT devices is difficult

Securing IoT devices and the networks they operate on pose more challenges than traditional computers and systems. They have different infrastructures and systems and need to be assessed individually. Oftentimes, this doesn’t happen proactively, leaving them open to attacks.

Some reasons IoT devices are particularly susceptible to threats include:

  • Advanced cybersecurity and protection require large computing power, which many IoT devices just don’t have. This is often due to their small size, which is dedicated to executing the core functions of that product. That may leave IoT devices with basic password and identity authentication protection, which can be easy for hackers to overcome.
  • IoT devices’ dependence on cloud computing and data storage leaves them open to a variety of attacks. Data storage and transmission are often unsecured, which leaves personal information exposed. There is a large ‘playground’ for hackers to enjoy with many access points and hiding places.
  • There is no standard body of security protocols for IoT devices, which means that security is up to individual manufacturers. In a rush to get to market or reduce cost, manufacturers may focus efforts elsewhere and fail to pay adequate attention to security.
  • Many devices never go through patches or updates after their initial purchase. Since they may be active for years, their protections get weaker over time.
  • Simple IoT devices such as wearables are readily available and affordable, meaning hackers can go to the store just like anyone else to buy one and learn its weaknesses.

In an ideal world, manufacturers would do more to inherently protect devices before they become available. However, understanding why IoT devices are so difficult to secure can help IT professionals anticipate some of the problems they may encounter when trying to protect their networks.

How to protect IoT devices

Here are some general tips for securing IoT devices and securing the networks they are using:

  • Conduct an inventory of the IoT devices already on the network. This number will obviously change as outside devices connect and disconnect, but managers may discover some previously unknown devices accessing the network and key information.
  • Create a separate network for IoT devices so they aren’t sharing the same connection with other devices or systems storing sensitive data. This may not mitigate the number of cyberattacks, but it will at least minimize the chance of them spreading.
  • Advise network clients to create strong and complex passwords. It’s simple, but it creates a significant obstacle for hackers to overcome.
  • Avoid using Universal Plug and Play programs which make it easier for IoT devices to connect to one another to carry out activities. When devices can more easily find each other, it means hackers can do the same.
  • Be familiar with manufacturer security standards and vendor certifications. Because there is no universal standard in place for IoT devices, these will vary. Knowing the relevant certifications will help identify the devices that lack them.
  • Practice responses to an attack. Run simulations and drills on how to react when an IoT device compromises the network. Do it regularly, and keep the process updated.
  • Have full visibility of IoT devices accessing the network. Knowing the type of device, the software it’s running, and the data it’s accessing will provide IT teams with a bird’s-eye view of network activity and potential weak points.

Continuous network monitoring

7SIGNAL provides continuous network monitoring, so interruptions and attacks are discovered early before they reach the end-user. IoT devices aren’t going anywhere, and the congestion and network threats that accompany them will only continue to increase.

7SIGNAL’s software continuously tests a Wi-Fi network for issues, minimizing downtime and maximizing device connectivity. Our solutions tackle issues proactively, which is a necessity for businesses that rely on high-quality network performance that can handle the volume of IoT devices and the security challenges they pose.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.

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