IoT Security: How Far We've Come, How Far We Have to Go

As organizations fear the proliferations of connected devices on enterprise networks, the private and public sector come together to address IoT vulnerabilities.

"The focus from the EU is a good one, it is important, and we have to take that into consideration, especially as it comes to end nodes," says Dr. Joerg Borchert, president and chairman of Trusted Computing Group (TCG). Privacy protection is a higher priority in Europe, he adds, and it will be a critical part of the conversation around IoT security. As TCG focuses on IoT security, the organization has been working closely with several governments and standards organizations.

"We try to understand what kind of best practices can be utilized and also, it is important for an industry standard to harmonize as much as possible across different geographies and different countries," says Borchert.

UL's IoT Security Rating is another industry measure geared toward manufacturers. Its evaluation process considers critical security aspects of connected products against common attack strategies and known IoT vulnerabilities to create a "security baseline" for consumers.

The driver for UL's rating was to "incentivize manufacturers to build security into their products," says director of security and technology Andrew Jamieson, who anticipates a consumer demand for a minimal security baseline. Adding security will increase cost, he adds, but advertising secure devices beside unsecured ones may encourage people to pay more.

"One of the issues we have with security is it's a commercial problem as much as it is a technical problem," Jamieson explains. He compares the IoT security rating to energy ratings on tools and appliances: because consumers understand why the cost is higher, they're likely to choose a more energy-efficient product. Security ratings will vary between low-risk products, like a connected lightbulb, and high-risk products such as wireless and IP-connected cameras.

IoT Security Startups Bring New Ideas, Capabilities

In addition to providing a gateway into target networks, insecure IoT devices can grant access to a wealth of personal data. Potential exposure of this information is another factor driving private and public sector organizations to pay closer attention to how devices are secured.

"When you think about the amount of data and everything being connected, whether it's at home, on your body, how you drive to work, the threat vector is just growing in magnitudes that you can barely comprehend today," says Gregg Smith, CEO of startup Attila Security. The company launched in 2018 to protect endpoints using a software-defined perimeter.

Attila's tech comes from the NSA, Smith explains. Its initial use case was to provide traveling executives secure connectivity back into government networks. Over time, the company has expanded its use cases to organizations across governments and industries. Now it enables secure IoT deployments, sensitive communications, and secure remote network access. Channels connect devices to one another, enabling IoT device security at a larger scale.

Securing communications across devices is "solving a problem that IoT is creating, but it's not attacking the underlying problem," says Janke. Going down to a deeper level is ReFirm Labs, another IoT security startup specifically focused on the analysis and vetting of IoT firmware.

Firmware, an appealing target given its higher level of access and privilege on a device, is a growing concern in the IoT security industry because it's commonly unprotected. ReFirm's Centrifuge Platform validates and monitors the security of firmware running billions of IoT devices and connected enterprise machines.

"It takes just one firmware weakness for bad actors to gain access to an IoT device and then use that attack surface to compromise the integrity of an entire network," says cofounder Terry Dunlap. These attacks often aren't advanced or complicated to perform; intruders can simply take advantage of default usernames and passwords, which come with so many IoT products.

Where We're Headed

In the future, we'll start to see greater monetization of IoT devices and criminals targeting medical devices, robot assemblies, and industrial control systems, Clay predicts. As new devices come online and organizations automate, we'll continue to see new IoT-focused attacks.

Carson calls on industry organizations to share data across verticals, which he believes can help everyone better prepare for IoT attacks. "Sometimes a lot of lessons can be learned by having cross-industry experience," he notes. "We need to talk more about the successes and share more about the lessons learned."

It's "highly likely" we'll continue to see more actions from state and federal agencies to address IoT security, Geiger anticipates, though he believes states' progress will move faster. While major tech organizations like Amazon and Microsoft are taking regulation seriously, more will need to be done to bring manufacturers of all levels on board.

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