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Secure IoT devices and networks and bears, oh my!

There is a popular saying that goes something like this: You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the slowest guy running from the bear. As it turns out, that saying is as good a metaphor for life as it is for security in IoT.

It all comes down to the issue of perfection. Success in life doesn’t require someone to be perfect in everything they do. What it does require is for a person to never give up, to keep moving forward, to work to improve even when it seems too hard and to outlast the competition.

Security in IoT devices is no different.

Just like life, appropriate IoT security does not demand perfection. It is not a matter of having to ‘outrun the bear,’ but instead needing to ensure IoT device security is ‘running faster’ or better than that of the competition. Unfortunately, that is often easier said than done.

Preparing for a cyberattack

It is common knowledge that IoT devices are prime targets for hackers. They often lack rudimentary security measures and operate with out-of-date firmware. These security vulnerabilities create a backdoor into the network, which can be used to launch automated IoT botnet distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks when exploited. That backdoor also gives hackers the ability to take control of an IoT device and force it to operate in an unintended way.

Imagine a hacker intentionally draining the batteries of IoT devices in a smart factory, causing an untold loss of revenue to a company. Or worse, what if the hacker takes control of a patient’s medical infusion pump, changing the amount of medication it dispenses? Without appropriate security measures in place, these scenarios could be all too real.

How do IoT device makers and network operators ensure their IoT devices and networks aren’t the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to security? It all starts with having the right IoT testing, security, and visibility infrastructure in place to protect both the IoT devices and the networks that support them. Having a solid security strategy and plan for mitigating attacks is also critical.

On the network side, some of the best practices to consider when building that plan include:

Know your attacker. Hackers are creatures of habit. If an attack tactic works well, they will likely employ it repeatedly. Understanding the attacker, their patterns of attack and what to expect can prove critical to helping operators identify an attack in progress before it has a chance to get out of control.

Choose your weapons carefully. It’s not if a network attack will happen, but when. Being prepared with a DDoS mitigation tool or service is always a smart choice. But make that choice wisely by first checking the scale of attack the tool or service can stop, the level of service it can provide to critical infrastructure users and how many users are being affected while the attack is ongoing. Also check how often the tool or service falsely flags someone as an attacker.

Test your environment. Knowing how an attack will impact a network is essential to its prevention. This can be done by running simulations of attacks and defending against them by trying different solutions. The information that results can prove especially useful in building a database of defense mechanisms to be used for various scenarios. Plus, the more the network is tested in the lab, the fewer surprises the operator will encounter during a real attack.

Never stop working to improve security. Hackers adapt quickly and that means operators need to as well. The only way to be prepared is by proactively and continually seeking out new weapons and security techniques to plug the gaps in an existing security strategy.

IoT devices or networks alike are increasingly prone to cyberattack. Hardening devices and networks to withstand the onslaught is a tedious and ongoing process, one that can be addressed by many different strategies and using a range of different tools and services. The key to making the right choice is to first thoroughly test your environment and uncover any device or network vulnerabilities. Only then can IoT device makers and network operators begin to make the best choices for ensuring IoT devices and networks are resilient to attack.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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