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2/15/2017
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IoT Security: A Ways To Go, But Some Interim Steps For Safety

The Internet of Things remains vulnerable to botnets and malware, but Cisco's Anthony Grieco offers some tips to keep networks and users more secure

RSA CONFERENCE – San Francisco -  It's pretty much impossible to tune out the attention paid to the Internet of Things here at the security industry's largest gathering. While the IoT wins plenty of renown for its granularity, flexibility, and ability to generate lost of useful data, it's also getting dinged for its porous security, if it has any security at all.

End-users and security vendors got a preview of the IoT's vulnerability in October when Dyn Corp.'s network suffered a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, with the Mirai IoT botnet marshaling more than 100,000 infected devices to overwhelm Dyn servers with bogus traffic. And in a Mirai encore, researchers this week revealed the IoT botnet is tapping a new, Windows-based Trojan that helps find potential Mirai victims, and amplifies the Mirai bots distribution, according to a report from TrendLabs, the research arm of Trend Micro.

A conversation at RSA with Anthony Grieco, senior director and trust strategy officer at Cisco, helped shed some additional light on the state of IoT security, and what end-user organizations can do to protect themselves. Cisco, a vocal champion of IoT technologies and capabilities, also taps the IoT for internal applications and services, so Grieco spoke with Dark Reading as much as a user as a vendor of IoT products.

"We have IoT all over our enterprise and we think about how we defend against risks," Grieco says, referring to printers, thermostats and even some building management apps that use IoT technology. "We think a lot about resilience, but IoT drives that conversation."

Not surprisingly, Cisco views the enterprise network as the centerpiece (think backbone switches, routers, and workgroup gear); the network is the place for control, access, and administration that allows customers to enforce policies that govern IoT use and other services. "As the IoT grows, the network becomes the place that drives the policy, connectivity, and capability," Grieco explains. "Something you'll see is the network becoming more aware and able to protect the IoT devices."

More immediately, Grieco suggests implementing 802.1X, a port-based Network Access Control (PNAC) standard that handles authentication of devices trying to connect to a LAN or Wi-Fi network as an IoT security measure.

He's also a fan of virtual segmentation technologies that allow for secure compartmentalization of virtual and network elements to reduce overall vulnerability. Segmentation also helps turn up anomalies more efficiently. "A wireless video camera should not be ordering a book from Amazon, for example," Grieco says with a grin.

There are tangible steps users can take to protect their IoT assets and infrastructure. Grieco encourages having defined policies for each segmented element that details its access and communication rights as thoroughly as possible. He also suggests having a unique identifier for each individual IoT device, "a non-trivial challenge, depending on the deployment," Grieco adds.

Many customers either lack the infrastructure IoT defense and protection, or haven't made capital improvements in a while. And that's to the detriment of their individual businesses; Grieco cites a Cisco survey showing 39% of customers had to suspend a major strategic initiative because of the state of their security. If customers aren't ready from a cybersecurity perspective, it will impede them competitively, he says.

Those recommendations are a good start, given that IoT continues to have security gaps, but there are other areas that need to be considered too, says Merritt Maxim, senior analyst at Forrester. He likes the idea of going beyond device identification to identity identification of the user of the device.

Connected home and connected car environments have a single device but multiple potential users with potentially different levels of authorization, Maxim says. While not required in every device, many still support multiple user profiles. "This could go further and also improve the customer experience as well in a multi-user, single-device home environment," he adds.

Another challenge with managing identity occurs when devices have multiple connected partners or tenants. "You have a hardware vendor, software vendors, and maybe even a services company that need to run some code on a specific device," Maxim says, wondering how the industry can formulate an approach that allows regular, automated software updates in the same way. "Right now, it requires a lot of coordination and manual effort."

If nothing else, the advent of the IoT is helping to push the security conversation across the entire enterprise and not just in the IT department Cisco's Grieco says. "It's gratifying to see security's emergence from a back-office function to security all across your business and something everyone has to be concerned with," he says. "That's the most exciting thing and I see evidence of it here and at other conferences."

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Terry Sweeney is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered technology, networking, and security for more than 20 years. He was part of the team that started Dark Reading and has been a contributor to The Washington Post, Crain's New York Business, Red Herring, ... View Full Bio

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