The Internet of Things allows us to harness advanced technological connectivity and upgrade our surroundings and quality of living. However, designing and using systems and products in this emerging tech playground comes with a host of associated risks. Therefore, understanding the nature of IoT security risks becomes crucial for developers and users of IoT solutions alike.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is a structure of network-connected computational devices and machines which communicate autonomously.
As this technology advances, people are constantly discovering new applications for it. They strive to weave this technology into various aspects of their lives in order to reap its benefits. As a result, more and more devices are becoming ‘smart’. The connectivity brought on by the internet has been rapidly permeating the physical world around us, creating the Internet of Things. Now, as new business domains behind this tech emerge, people seem quick to enter them without much regard for underlying risks.
IoT risk factors
There are several important factors driving up the IoT security risks levels. They are:
Volume of devices
The total global number of IoT devices is growing rapidly as people discover new industrial and commercial use cases for the technology. Over 83 billion IoT devices will be active in the world by 2024. Sensors are now being deployed everywhere – from home appliances to vehicles, agricultural parcels, even in light bulbs. The sheer volume and variety of these devices increases the chance some are, or will become, vulnerable to attack and compromise.
IoT solutions development speed
The entire industry of digital products and services is rushing to produce market-ready solutions faster than the competition. Often enough, companies will cut corners on security testing in order to be first movers and capture market share. This almost universally leaves them with a hefty security debt which tends to accumulate over time. By the time a company addresses these security holes, precious data may have already been compromised. Some companies never even bother going back and patching things up, hoping time will work to their advantage. Unfortunately, a developer’s quality is still rarely measured by the secureness of his code.
Nature of IoT devices
Many traditional industries are already adapting their devices to be compatible with IoT integration. Additionally, new cutting-edge computational and communicational devices offer numerous layers of functions and capabilities. The downside is that these novel functions simultaneously open these devices to new security vulnerabilities. Furthermore, some of these devices either do not include security features or there’s simply no IoT security framework to protect them.
Most common IoT security risks
As the previously mentioned risk factors increase, overlap and compound, a host of specific risk categories arise. The most frequent types of IoT security risks which users encounter are:
Data protection and privacy
A while ago, the Amazon Alexa privacy invasion bombshell reverberated across the globe. This event opened a public discussion which led to some pretty startling findings. It turned out that numerous smart devices in homes and offices were collecting unsanctioned data and even recording conversations. This ranged from TVs and phones to smart speakers and all the way to certain toys. The devices were relaying information to the manufacturers and other big tech companies without informing the user. Sometimes, this information included potentially sensitive data such as the layout of a home or business and personal schedules making this one of the most pressing concerns in the industry. Safeguards are still needed.
Malware and spyware threats
IoT devices with no or inadequate security features become easy prey for hackers. As is the case with any software system, IoT devices can be targeted by malicious attacks and infected by malware. The severity of damages caused by malware can vary greatly. In some cases, the devices will just start crashing, freezing or slowing down. In other instances, malware can turn your device into a botnet that propagates more malware or be used in DDOS attacks. An event of this type can easily cripple an entire business network in moments, causing reputational and financial costs.
Ransomware and theft
IoT’s increasing popularity is enticing hackers to create new types of malicious code aimed specifically at smart devices. Additionally, the wealth of sensitive data (be it sentimental, financial or other) stored on or passing through these devices makes them an even more valuable bounty. Ransomware holds your data hostage until the hackers receive their ransom, often in cryptocurrencies. Insecure IOT devices handling sensitive data expose individuals or entities to increased risk of extensive damage or loss.
Device hijacking and abuse
Given the depth of their integration into our everyday lives, hijacking IoT devices can result in very serious consequences. If hackers take active control of cameras and microphones, a compromise could result in a spill of embarrassing or damaging personal or business information. IOT device hijacking in the case of an infrastructure application monitoring and controlling bridges or railways presents a much different and much greater threat. Using weak, easily compromised passwords, or deploying an insecure implementation of IOT devices will most certainly lead to hijacking and abuse, or to the exploit of some other related vulnerability or security risk.
Mitigating common IoT security risks
“How do I safely use IOT devices?”, you might ask since IOT devices are, in fact, a sensible and effective use of connectivity and technology. We will address this in next month’s post.