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What is IoT security?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to ‘the concept of connecting any device that has an on/off switch to the Internet and other connected devices’. This huge wireless network of internet-connected devices and people enables data collection and sharing on a vast, global scale, encompassing both how electronic devices are used and how users interact with environments. The IoT includes smart devices – the common, physical objects connected within the IoT ecosystem via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth – such as smart watches, smartphones, smart vehicles and smart home appliances.

However, while IoT provides convenience and accessibility on a colossal scale, it also brings with it a great number of risks. Without sufficient protection, IoT devices that are allowed to connect to the internet can be susceptible to various critical vulnerabilities and exploitations – a fact businesses and service providers must be aware of if they are to protect against security risks.

What is IoT security and why is it important?

The ever-expanding number of pathways between IoT systems and devices creates a greater capacity for ‘threat actors’, such as cybercriminals and hackers, to intercept and interfere with digital technologies. Cyberattacks are a matter of national and international security, as businesses and individuals who fall victim to cybercrime risk having their identities, money, data or other properties stolen.

Issues of cybersecurity and cybercrime continue to pose critical threats to organisations and individuals across the world, as recent statistics illustrate.

  • The average cost of a single ransomware attack is $1.85 million – and cybercrime will cost companies worldwide an estimated $10.5 trillion by 2025.
  • The rate of detection or prosecution of cybercriminals is as low as 0.05%.
  • 43% of cyber attacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14% are sufficiently prepared to defend themselves.

Such attacks have the potential to disrupt usual business operations, cause damage to important assets and infrastructure, lead to extortion, and demand a huge amount of budget and resources to remedy – resources many businesses simply do not have.

IoT security, therefore, refers to the broad range of strategies, protocols, techniques and actions used to mitigate the increasing risk of threats all modern businesses face. It aims to secure IoT devices and connected networks and operating systems from threats and breaches by protecting, identifying and monitoring risks across all attack surfaces, as well as assisting to resolve security weaknesses.

What are the main security issues facing IoT systems?

According to the National Crime Agency, the most common attack types include: hacking, phishing, malicious software and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Security threats are as numerous as they are creative, and their exact nature can vary across industries and the types of device, use cases and systems under threat. For example, the healthcare sector relies on IoT devices that feature some of the highest share of security issues, such as medical imaging systems, patient monitoring systems, and medical device gateways. Other key contenders across other industries include energy management devices, IP phones, consumer electronics, printers and security cameras.

The most common IoT security threats can be divided into three main categories.

  1. Exploits, accounting for 41% of threats: examples include network scans, remote code executions, command injections, buffer overflows, SQL injections and zero-days.
  2. Malware, accounting for 33% of threats: examples include worms, ransomware, backdoor trojans and botnets (such as Mirai).
  3. User practice, accounting for 26% of threats: examples include password vulnerabilities, phishing and cryptojacking.

In practice, these threats are often due to:

  • weak, guessable or hardcoded passwords
  • insecure network services
  • insecure ecosystem interfaces
  • lack of secure update mechanisms
  • use of insecure or outdated components
  • insufficient privacy protection
  • insecure data transfer and storage
  • lack of device management
  • insecure default passwords and settings
  • lack of physical hardening.

Fortunately, there are a whole host of real-time security measures organisations can adopt and implement to protect their network-connected systems, assets and workforces.

What are the most important IoT security solutions?

IoT security is often described as ‘the backbone of the internet’. Threats, challenges and IoT attacks are real and require the immediate attention of all businesses. IoT system vulnerabilities and threats keep mutating – so our security solutions must do the same.

If effective and lasting solutions to security threats are to be developed and implemented, organisations must take into account the entire IoT security lifecycle: understand IoT assets, assess IoT risks, apply risk reduction policies, prevent known threats, and detect and respond to unknown threats.

With this knowledge and insight in place, cybersecurity professionals can begin rolling out IoT security best practices including:

  • tracking and managing all devices
  • conducting patching and remediation efforts
  • updating passwords and credentials
  • using up-to-date encryption protocols
  • conducting penetration testing and evaluation
  • understanding the endpoints
  • ensuring segmentation of networks
  • enabling multi-factor authentication.

These are just some of the many methods that can reinforce IoT device security. Using specialist software and tools, such as Microsoft Defender for IoT, is another option organisations can also invest in for more comprehensive coverage.

Gain the skills to protect against cyberattacks and enforce network security

Develop key computational thinking skills – and learn how to safeguard systems against cyber security challenges, threats and techniques – with the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science with Cyber Security programme.

Designed for individuals who don’t have a computing or IT background, our 100% online, flexible course equips you with the knowledge, skills and understanding to move into a career in the computer science sector. You’ll develop a keen theoretical and practical understanding of programming techniques, computer and network infrastructure, security risks and security engineering, and explore cyber concepts such as cryptography, cloud security, memory and resource management, password protection and DoS. Every aspect of your learning will have critical, real-world application, and you’ll be supported by experts in the field throughout your online studies.

Choose from modules including security engineering, advanced programming, cyber security threats, artificial intelligence and machine learning, algorithms and data structures, and much more.