Top 10 IoT Security Challenges and How to Solve Them

7  min read | 07/11/2022

Igal Zeifman
Igal Zeifman
Lian Granot
Lian Granot

What Is IoT Security?

Individuals, businesses, and governments alike rely on IoT devices to keep everything going. Each of us is surrounded by IoT almost every moment of every day, with an estimated 75.44 billion IoT devices to be installed worldwide by 2025. These devices are making our buildings, infrastructure, supply chain, cars, gadgets, and many other systems smarter, better, and more efficient.

But, as reliance on IoT grows, so does cyberattacker interest, putting a big target on every IoT device. IoT represents a “way in” to an organization – once in, they can eavesdrop, steal information, disrupt operations, or perpetrate other attacks. Research shows over half (57%) of IoT devices are vulnerable to medium and high-severity attacks.

IoT Security refers to the safeguards implemented to protect connected devices. It involves not just securing the devices themselves but also the data they transmit and store, and the networks to which these devices connect. Effective IoT security requires a holistic approach that includes secure product design, regular updates, runtime security measures, and user education.

This is part of a series of articles about IoT Security

Understanding Top IoT Security Challenges 

Let’s review the most pressing IoT security challenges and directions organizations can take to solve them.

1. Inadequate Authentication 

Inadequate authentication mechanisms pose a significant security challenge in the IoT landscape. Many IoT devices offer minimal authentication processes, relying on simple, default, or hardcoded passwords that are easily compromised by attackers. 

This lack of robust authentication exposes devices to unauthorized access, enabling attackers to easily infiltrate networks, manipulate device functionalities, or gain access to sensitive information.

Solutions:

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security beyond just passwords.
  • Utilize strong, unique passwords and encourage regular updates. Avoid default or hardcoded passwords.
  • Employ digital certificates and biometric authentication for more secure and unique identification methods.

2. Insufficient Encryption

Encryption is essential for protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data as it moves across networks or is stored on devices. However, many IoT devices and systems fail to implement strong encryption standards, if they use encryption at all. This oversight leaves data vulnerable to interception and exploitation by malicious actors. 

Without adequate encryption, sensitive information transmitted by IoT devices, such as personal data or proprietary business information, can be easily accessed and misused.

Solutions:

  • Ensure that all data in transit and at rest is encrypted using strong encryption standards, such as AES-256.
  • Regularly update encryption methods to keep up with advancements in cryptographic techniques and standards.
  • Use secure, up-to-date protocols like TLS for data transmission to prevent interception and unauthorized access.

3. Firmware and Software Vulnerabilities

IoT devices are often plagued by firmware and software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals. These vulnerabilities arise from poor coding practices, lack of security considerations in the development phase, and failure to patch known flaws in a timely manner. 

Exploiting these vulnerabilities, attackers can gain control over devices, alter their functionalities, or use them as entry points to launch broader attacks on the network. The diversity and rapid evolution of IoT devices further complicate efforts to identify and remediate these vulnerabilities, leaving many devices at risk.

Solutions:

  • Adopt a secure development lifecycle (SDLC) that includes regular security assessments and penetration testing.
  • Provide timely firmware and software updates and patches for known vulnerabilities.
  • Encourage responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities by setting up a vulnerability disclosure program.

4. Insecure Protocols

Many IoT devices communicate using protocols that lack built-in security features, presenting a significant challenge for IoT security. These insecure protocols can expose data to interception, tampering, and unauthorized access during transmission. 

The use of legacy protocols, not originally designed with modern security threats in mind, exacerbates the risk. As a result, the data integrity and confidentiality of information exchanged between IoT devices and the network are compromised.

Solutions:

  • Transition to secure communication protocols that include built-in encryption and authentication, such as HTTPS or MQTT over TLS.
  • Regularly audit and update IoT device protocols to ensure they meet current security standards.
  • Disable unused or insecure ports and services on devices to minimize potential entry points for attackers.

5. Lack of Standardization

The IoT ecosystem suffers from a lack of standardization, which poses a significant challenge to implementing effective security measures. With a large number of manufacturers producing devices with different operating systems, protocols, and security capabilities, achieving a uniform security posture is difficult. 

IoT fragmentation hinders the development and enforcement of universal security standards and best practices, leaving devices and networks vulnerable to attacks.

Solutions:

  • Adopt widely recognized IoT security standards and frameworks, such as those developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
  • Participate in industry consortia to contribute to and stay informed about evolving IoT security standards.
  • Implement security by design, ensuring that devices conform to interoperable security protocols and standards from the outset.

6. Physical Security Risks

Physical security risks are a unique and often overlooked challenge in IoT security. Unlike traditional computing devices that are typically housed in secure locations, IoT devices are often deployed in easily accessible or remote areas, making them vulnerable to physical tampering and theft. 

Attackers gaining physical access to these devices can extract sensitive data, install malicious software, or manipulate device functionality. This vulnerability highlights the need for robust physical security measures and designs that consider physical threats to IoT devices.

Solutions:

  • Design IoT devices with tamper detection and resistance features to mitigate the risk of physical attacks.
  • Implement secure boot mechanisms to ensure that devices only operate with verified and authorized firmware.
  • Use geofencing and alarm systems for devices in sensitive or high-risk physical locations.

7. Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

IoT security is also challenged by vulnerabilities within the supply chain. IoT devices often rely on a complex network of suppliers for their components and software, each of which can introduce security weaknesses. A single vulnerability in any part of the supply chain can compromise the security of the entire device and, by extension, the network it connects to. 

These vulnerabilities can arise from compromised components, insecure software libraries, or inadequate security practices at any stage of the supply chain, making it difficult to ensure the security of IoT devices from production to deployment.

Solutions:

  • Conduct thorough security assessments of suppliers and integrate security considerations into procurement processes.
  • Use secure, trusted components and software libraries from reputable suppliers.
  • Implement end-to-end encryption across the supply chain to protect data integrity and confidentiality.

8. Maintenance and Update Challenges

Maintaining and updating IoT devices poses significant challenges for IoT security. Many devices are designed without the capability for remote updates or lack the necessary mechanisms to securely apply patches. This makes it difficult to address vulnerabilities as they are discovered, leaving devices perpetually exposed to known threats. 

Additionally, the sheer volume and diversity of IoT devices can overwhelm efforts to keep all devices updated, leading to inconsistencies in security across the network.

Solutions:

  • Design IoT devices with the capability for secure, remote firmware and software updates.
  • Develop a robust update management system that ensures all devices are regularly updated without disrupting their operation.
  • Implement version control and rollback capabilities to maintain device integrity during update failures.

9. Shadow IoT

Shadow IoT refers to IoT devices connected to a network without the knowledge or approval of IT management. These unauthorized devices significantly broaden the attack surface, as they often lack proper security measures and oversight. 

Shadow IoT devices can include personal gadgets brought by employees or IoT devices deployed by other departments without coordinating with IT. The hidden nature of these devices makes it challenging to enforce security policies and protect the network from potential threats introduced by these rogue devices.

Solutions:

  • Implement network access control (NAC) policies to detect and manage unauthorized devices.
  • Conduct regular network audits to identify and mitigate shadow IoT devices.
  • Educate employees about the risks of connecting unauthorized devices and establish clear IoT usage policies.

10. Lack of Awareness and Education 

A fundamental challenge in IoT security is the lack of awareness and education among users and manufacturers. Many users are unaware of the potential risks associated with IoT devices or how to secure them properly. Similarly, IoT development teams may not prioritize security in the design and development process, focusing instead on functionality and time to market. 

This gap in knowledge and awareness contributes to the deployment of vulnerable devices and the adoption of inadequate security practices, undermining efforts to secure the IoT ecosystem.

Solutions:

  • Launch educational campaigns targeting both end-users and development teams to highlight the importance of IoT security.
  • Provide guidelines and best practices for securing IoT devices, tailored to different user groups.
  • Include security as a core component of the design and development process, ensuring manufacturers are aware of and implement security best practices from the start.

Achieving Deterministic IoT Security with Sternum

While there are solutions for each of the IoT challenges above, they are easier said than done. In many cases, devices are already deployed in the market and it is not possible to retrofit them with appropriate security measures. This is where Sternum comes in.

Sternum represents a paradigm shift for IoT security, combining the adaptive protection of RASP with an agentless EDR/XDR-like deployment model, addressing the aforementioned challenges with:

  • Automatic mitigation of known and zero-day threats: Our patented EIV solution introduces a vulnerability-agnostic approach that deterministically blocks exploitation attempts to deliver blanket protection from current and future threats.
  • Live in-field insights: Our platform offers granular device-level visibility that gives users the actionable insights they need to identify and resolve complex issues to improve product performance, quality, and security.
  • Out-of-the-box 3rd party protection: Our security solution relies on binary instrumentation to protect all running code, including third-party and OS libraries, to effectively prevent any exploitation.
  • Runtime security for all devices: Taking a page from leading runtime security solutions, we deliver deterministic self-correcting protection that is equally effective for any IoT device – any device/OS combination, whether it’s old or new, connected or isolated (air-gapped).‍
  • A shift left approach:  Our platform natively integrates with popular integrated development environments (IDEs) and can be introduced directly into CI/CD builds. This enables the ongoing profiling of a device’s software to identify and alert on any security gaps during development stages that help make devices more secure by design.‍
  • Agentless and lightweight solution: Our in-firmware approach allows Sternum to be easily embedded into the most resource-restricted devices (e.g., RTOS, embedded devices, legacy models, etc) without sacrificing performance (only 1-3% overhead) or operations.

And this is just on the security side. In addition, we have robust observability and anomaly detection solutions to support the needs of teams in charge of developing, deploying, and managing IoT fleets.

Here is a quick look of what Sternum has to offer…

Interested to learn more about Sternum? Schedule a demo and see our platform in action: https://www.sternumiot.com/request-demo

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