IoT Security

The growing importance of cybersecurity in the IoT era

Ellen Pincus
December 20, 2023 by
Ellen Pincus

The Internet of Things (IoT) has ballooned to include everything from exercise to cooking, manufacturing and more. Connecting everyday devices to the Internet gives them the power to process vast amounts of information in real time. But with enhanced connectivity also comes new vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity for IoT devices is now as critical as their internal components and networking capabilities.

We'll examine the current IoT landscape and dive into security challenges and best practices for defending against them. Next, we'll explore AI and machine learning and the future of IoT security. 

The IoT landscape in 2024 

The number of IoT devices worldwide is predicted to nearly double between 2020 and 2030, reaching over 29 billion. The surge is due to demand across several sectors. For example, smart homes use IoT devices to provide a hyper-connected infrastructure for everyday homeowners.

IoT device in hospital

IoT trends show increased use of connected devices, from homes to hospitals and workplaces.

The healthcare industry uses various connected devices to care for patients and monitor their progress. The manufacturing sector continues to add more IoT devices to enable workers and analysts to collect data and improve efficiencies across their operations. 

As a result of so many more IoT devices, the number of networks needed to support them has also grown. Each of these networks and their endpoints present opportunities for attackers to infiltrate sensitive systems. IoT cybersecurity focuses on keeping both the devices and the networks secure and protecting the data that travels through them. 

Learn IoT Security

Learn IoT Security

Learn how ethical hackers exploit the growing number of internet-connected devices and become a Certified IoT Security Practitioner.

Cybersecurity challenges in the IoT era 

IoT devices and networks come with unique vulnerabilities that can make protecting them challenging. For example, it’s common for these systems to have: 

  • Easy-to-get passwords, such as those that come as default with the device 

  • Insecure and older components that hackers have already found ways of compromising 

  • Storage systems that don’t encrypt users’ private data 

  • Insecure mechanisms for transferring data between the device and the server it connects to 

Electric vehicles charging stations

A shift from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric and hybrid brings new IoT threats. 

For instance, recent research shows that electronic vehicles have multiple vulnerabilities that could make them easy targets for hackers. An attacker could use the electric vehicle supply equipment’s (EVSE) software to inject malware that could spread to its smart charging management system (SCMS). From there, the malware could spread to the building or power grid from which the vehicle draws energy. 

By neglecting these vulnerabilities and IoT threats, security engineers risk endangering the safety of both users and those in their communities. 

 Types of cyber threats to IoT devices 

IoT devices are especially vulnerable to the following threats: 

  • Ransomware. A ransomware attacker can encrypt the data inside an IoT device or the server it connects to, forcing owners or admins to pay hefty fees or risk losing their information. 

  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. With a DDoS attack, a hacker can use several computers to send false requests to an IoT device and its server, forcing them to malfunction or shut down. 

  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. With a MiTM attack on an IoT device, the attacker positions themselves in between the device and the network it connects to, stealing information or even altering commands. 

These threats can expose personal data and bring down networks that industrial devices depend on. Data and identity theft, systemic malfunctions and significant safety hazards could result. 

The IoT threat landscape has intensified as hackers design and implement new attack methods. For instance, ransomware attacks on IoT devices have recently shifted from focusing on servers and storage components to the device’s operating system itself. Attackers encrypt device firmware, which prevents it from working, and then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. 

Cybersecurity best practices for IoT 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has outlined measures that serve as best practices for defending IoT devices and their networks from attacks. The NIST recommends that manufacturers and end users should focus on: 

  • Device identification. Identifying all the IoT devices in your portfolio serves as a baseline for the subsequent steps because it frames your attack surface. 

  • Device configuration. Configuring devices to only interface with certain segments of a limited network can reduce the vulnerabilities hackers can exploit. 

  • Data protection. By encrypting data and using secure communication protocols, such as transport layer security (TLS), you can prevent attackers from stealing or manipulating it. This should be done for data both in storage and in transit. 

  • Logical access to interfaces. By simplifying the access paths devices use to connect with interfaces, you make them easier to analyze and secure. 

  • Software updates. Regular software updates ensure users have the most recent, secure firmware running their devices. This way, you ensure you’re running operating systems with updated security patches. 

  • Cybersecurity awareness. End-users must be aware of the full range of IoT attack vectors and how to reduce risk. 

The Role of AI and machine learning in IoT security 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have emerged as powerful tools in the defense of IoT devices and networks, especially because they can automate many security functions. For instance, security engineers can use AI to 

  • Detect anomalous behavior on IoT networks that could indicate DDoS attacks and other threats. 

  • Analyze device behavior, establish a safe baseline, and automatically identify behavior that could indicate a threat. 

  • Use predictive analytics to approximate the kinds of threats an IoT ecosystem may face in the future. 

  • Automatically respond to security issues in real-time, stopping attacks by disconnecting impacted devices from the network or blocking malicious traffic. 

For example, a company called Vectra AI has developed a system that can identify attacks as they happen and automatically take action to stop them. For instance, one of Vectra AI’s solutions can identify advanced persistent threats by automatically recognizing suspicious lateral movement of data through a network. In this way, it uses AI to prevent malware from spreading from one computer to another. 

AI is poised to be an increasingly effective resource for providing IoT security at scale. Security engineers can take a single AI-powered solution and duplicate it in multiple environments. For example, suppose a company adds a satellite location that needs to protect its IoT devices and their network. If the organization already has AI-powered cybersecurity in its main location, it can take that same system and its data and implement it in the second location. 

Learn IoT Security

Learn IoT Security

Learn how ethical hackers exploit the growing number of internet-connected devices and become a Certified IoT Security Practitioner.

Regulatory and compliance considerations 

There are several data security standards that, by extension, apply to IoT devices. Some of these include General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the Network Information Security Directive (NISD). Since IoT devices must manage and store data, the stipulations in these regulations apply to them and traditional computing devices. 

However, the United States has also introduced IoT-specific legislation: the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act. This requires: 

  • Companies to incorporate security features as they develop IoT devices 

  • Organizations to implement identity management strategies, which safeguard user data 

  • Practices for ensuring regular, reliable patching practices so devices have the most recent security features and vulnerability patches 

  • Managing the IoT device configurations with a focus on keeping devices and their data secure 

Businesses in the IoT space must comply with these regulations to avoid fines and reputational damage. Also, because these steps can help protect your IoT infrastructure, it’s good to implement them across your environment. 

Preparing for the future of IoT security 

By implementing proactive IoT security measures, you can lay the foundation for a safer ecosystem. As a result, your employees and the customers you serve can enjoy a more productive and secure IoT-powered experience. In addition, you can avoid compliance issues that could bring unwanted regulatory attention to your business. 

By ensuring your employees have the cybersecurity skills and awareness training needed to defend your IoT environment, you can leverage them as your first line of defense. Your staff can learn how to stop threats and avoid them in the first place. In effect, you transform your employees from cybersecurity vulnerabilities to victors. 

For development teams taking a proactive approach to security is crucial in the design and development phase of IoT solutions. Whether you use Agile, waterfall, or another approach, security stakeholders should have a seat at the development table from day one. This makes identifying vulnerabilities early in the development lifecycle and producing more secure solutions easier. 

Learn IoT Security

Learn IoT Security

Learn how ethical hackers exploit the growing number of internet-connected devices and become a Certified IoT Security Practitioner.

Conclusion: The importance of cybersecurity with IoT devices  

IoT devices and the networks they connect to have unique vulnerabilities, and defending them requires specialized technology and techniques. By implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect IoT ecosystems, your organization can make full use of these versatile solutions without sacrificing security. This enables you to remain at the forefront of the IoT movement. 

With IoT security-specific training, you can empower your security team to mitigate threats and support better user experiences. Reach out to Infosec today to learn which training can put your security specialists in the best position to safeguard your organization and its customers. 

Ellen Pincus
Ellen Pincus

Ellen Pincus is a communication and marketing professional with over a decade of creative experience helping innovative organizations differentiate their voice. As the content marketing specialist for Infosec, she enjoys empowering cyber professionals and students with skills and knowledge to advance their careers and outsmart cybercrime.