The IoT Needs to Enter Its Secure Age Right Now

Experts project a coming explosion in the number of internet-connected devices in circulation. To prepare for that growth, we need to make sure our endpoints are secure.

Written by Apu Pavithran
Published on Aug. 07, 2023
The IoT Needs to Enter Its Secure Age Right Now
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a testament to tech ingenuity, weaving together a vast tapestry of interconnected devices with boundless possibilities. From smart homes optimizing energy consumption to industrial networks streamlining manufacturing processes, the IoT revolutionizes our interactions with the digital world. 

Despite the sector’s growth, however, inherent cybersecurity issues pervade the industry. As devices take center stage in the modern home and workplace, tightening endpoints and uniting networks are more important than ever before. With that in mind, let’s explore why an embrace of all things cybersecurity is likely — and necessary — to define the IoT’s evolution.

How to Secure IoT Devices

  • Comply with governmental regulation like the EU’s Cyber Resilience Act.
  • Encrypt all data.
  • Employ identity and access management (IAM) solutions.
  • Adopt a zero-trust network access framework.
  • Use a unified endpoint management (UEM) solution.
  • Audit devices and replace outdated models.

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The Current State of IoT

The IoT market is experiencing exponential growth. By the end of this year, the number of active global endpoints will cross 16 billion devices, more than quadruple that of 10 years ago. Experts predict this number will jump to almost 30 billion by 2027. And these devices are creating more data than ever before. By 2025, the sector will generate 73.1 zettabytes of information, more than 400 percent of the output in 2019.

There is, however, a downside to such rapid expansion. With billions of devices communicating through diverse networks, each connection is a potential entry point for hackers. The more devices we adopt, the larger attack surfaces grow, which makes protecting the sensitive data transmitted through them increasingly challenging.

The unfortunate truth is that many of today’s IoT devices are fallible, and the risks are only growing. The number of weekly assaults on IoT endpoints, for example, increased by 40 percent in just the first two months of this year. As such, it’s past time to fortify the IoT landscape. In my view, the sector’s next phase should focus on cyber safety in both the making and the connecting of devices, paving the way for the Internet of “Secure” Things.


How to Build a Secure IoT Ecosystem

The good news? Regulation is moving in the right direction. In July, the Biden administration revealed its new cybersecurity strategy to drive the development of secure IoT devices. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union has rolled out the Cyber Resilience Act. This regulation will set minimum cybersecurity thresholds for hardware and software creators. Those who don’t follow the rules will face fines of up to €10M or up to 2 percent of worldwide annual revenue.

The bad news is that these changes will still take a few years to come into effect. In the meantime, organizations need to fill the gaps to protect their own device ecosystems. Thankfully, most can accomplish this with a few vital tweaks. First, always encrypt. Strong and resilient encryption technologies convert sensitive information into a format that’s unreadable to unauthorized entities. Popular encryption methods include private networks and peer-to-peer communications. So, even if malicious actors are successful in an attack, the data remains indecipherable. 

Next, implement robust access controls. One solution is to adopt identity and access management (IAM) tools that enforce stringent authentication mechanisms. Backing devices with public key infrastructure or blockchain, for example, can effectively thwart any attempts at unauthorized device access while also ensuring that only trusted personnel have the privilege to manage and control systems.

To further reinforce network security infrastructure, complement IAM with zero-trust network access. This cybersecurity approach inspects every device, determines its required access level, and segments the network accordingly. By following the principle of “never trust, always verify,” this method only grants specific rights, thereby minimizing the greater network threat associated with compromised devices.

Finally, let’s talk about endpoints and reiterate that not all are created equal. Although some devices function as simple sensors, others are far more sophisticated. Some endpoints are akin to modern mobile devices and require management on that level. Therefore, consider a unified endpoint management (UEM) solution to oversee these devices. From this unified console, UEMs can manage and provide visibility into devices, users, and apps across the network.


Managing Outdated Devices

In moving to the next generation of IoT, we must also address the issue of legacy devices. These are older, simpler devices that lack the processing power to support the robust security features of modern solutions. But they can still connect to the broader corporate network. Therefore, they can act as access points for bad actors. 

As a result, organizations must invest in upgrading or replacing outdated endpoints. This not only mitigates security risks but also enhances the overall resilience of the ecosystem.

It’s worth mentioning that, unlike traditional software, IoT devices often have long lifecycles, leaving them more vulnerable to threats over time. Moving forward, manufacturers must consider security updates and support throughout the device’s lifespan. In fact, this is one of the principal recommendations of Europe’s Cyber Resilience Act. Until then, enterprises and users should incorporate regular security audits to reduce the dangers of outdated devices.

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Building a Bigger, Safer IoT

As the Internet of Things reshapes our world, security must emerge as an unwavering cornerstone of its foundation. In this sense, The Internet of “Secure” Things is not a choice but an imperative. As leaders in the technology industry, we bear the responsibility of driving the adoption of robust security measures, fostering collaborative efforts, and embracing innovative solutions to safeguard the sector’s future.

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