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The IoT space is expanding at a rapid pace as new smart devices join the fray every day. As a direct consequence, increased user activity in this domain leads to more potential risks. On top of this, IoT devices already have a reputation for being notoriously insecure. Therefore, mitigating IoT security risks becomes paramount for every company devoted to long term success. 

Global IoT spending is on track to hit over 740 billion USD in 2020 and is permeating nearly every single industry. Furthermore, it will likely maintain double digit compounded annual growth rates in the following years. While this promises numerous new business opportunities it also dramatically increases the likelihood of information and privacy theft. These security vulnerabilities can ultimately bring down entire networks and create huge reputational and financial damages.

To prevent this and simultaneously improve the performance of their devices, IoT security experts should consider these five tips:

Develop systemic protection based on visibility and asset maps

IoT devices have become everyday staples in many factories and smart manufacturing facilities. They also continue to find their place in traditional industries such as agriculture. This puts significant pressure on security teams as they try to protect networks and systems where the number of devices can double overnight.

One of the most effective approaches is to design security systems specifically around IoT devices. This is called “security by design”. Most networks and systems still treat IoT devices as occasional occurrences, but this is starting to change. If a security system is structured around recognizing the behavior or IoT devices, it will drastically improve its pattern recognition and threat blocking capabilities.

Seeing which IoT devices are present on a network should be the first logical step. Running up-to-date asset maps which list all the active devices allows a clearer overview of possible targets. Combine this with an internal list of third-party vendors (both hardware and software) and you’ll get a solid idea where potential points of entry may appear.

Keep in mind that the nature of work in certain environments makes it difficult to coordinate security efforts. Workers, or other users of these devices, will usually clash with security teams because of imposed protocols or limitations. Overcoming this requires a concentrated approach with clearly outlined goals on an organizational level.

Steer clear of malware and ransomware

Due to their generally poor security features, many IoT devices are extremely susceptible to malware and ransomware infiltrations. Some of these malicious codes are so potent that they can quickly overtake and crash entire networks, or propagate further large-scale DDoS attacks. Essentially, your device turns against you and other network clients, thereby risking data loss, identity and privacy theft. What further complicates this situation is that some IoT devices operate 24/7, and this makes them more difficult to protect.

Security features are often overlooked in the design and production phase of a device, making them inherently vulnerable. Moreover, the manufacturers and developers of these devices are still slow to change when it comes to protection.

This is why your security teams need to pay special attention to malware and ransomware attacks. Setting up network protocols that can help prevent these hijacks are crucial. Limiting the space for potential contagion is highly advised, as is regular anti-malware sweeping. Many of these attacks still happen as a direct result of a user’s interaction – e.g. opening a contaminated email. Setting limits to what actions your users can perform while interacting from an IoT device can also help with mitigating IoT security risks.

Deploy firewalls and segment your network

A major factor that contributes to the overall robustness of your system is its ability to “localize” threats. A well-placed firewall limits the ability of rogue devices to contaminate other parts of your network. Additionally, segmenting the network itself allows you to divide your infrastructure into several self-contained domains. That way, you can monitor the security status within all of those domains and contain breaches if they occur.

Network segmentation is an excellent foundation for building a healthy security system, and synergizes really well with asset maps. This way, you can see which asset class belongs to which segment and where potential dangers might come from. Furthermore, some companies need to run tens or hundreds of devices from a different manufacturer, which multiplies risk and complexity levels. Having a variety of device manufacturers means non-standardized security updates and patches; while simultaneously giving third parties access to your system. Keeping tabs on different types and brands of hardware and software reduces potential security gaps but also costs time.

Understand the threats around you

As in any type of conflict, knowing your opponent is half the victory. By learning and understanding the threat factors and their nature, you’ll be able to better manage your IoT security risks. The speed at which information disseminates on the internet gives attackers plenty of opportunities. For example, certain websites and portals are open to unlimited penetration testing options for hackers trying to break into devices; and since printers and cameras sometimes lack proper security measures, they quickly become sensitive targets for external attack.

In a similar way, tools used to prevent cyber penetrations can also be flipped to serve the attackers. In this case, it’s a race against time for responsible security teams. If they test their systems and find out weak spots, they need to react quickly to patch them up. Otherwise, they risk being compromised by hackers who are bound to find the same security gaps sooner or later.

Communicate with your vendors

Mitigating IoT security risks is undoubtedly a multidimensional task. Securing high quality IoT devices from manufacturers who are committed to following security-oriented production processes will save you plenty of time and resources in the long run. The manufactures commitment should extend to maintaining the secure operation of their product once it is deployed to your network.  They can show this by making firmware and other security-related updates available quickly and as often as necessary.  This is an important issue because the security posture of your system changes quickly with the nature of parts that make up system.  Because of this, timely security patches become a necessity, and having an effective and responsive support service will help you act preventatively and contain damages if they do occur.

Ultimately, mitigating IoT security risks remains a continuous effort in a swiftly evolving environment.  A long-term strategy built around functional system security which incorporates the measures described above is a great way to start. Be wise and responsible, and start designing your mitigation plan today.