What is the internet of things (IOT) and IoT security

Published on 27 Feb 2021

According to Statista, the number of IoT devices will worldwide increase to 75 billion by the year 2025[1]. With IoT devices becoming so common, more attention is being paid to their security and how bad actors could use these devices for nefarious purposes. In this article, we will take a closer look at the internet of things security, some common security issues, and some ways to improve IoT security.

What is in the Internet of Things (IoT)

In the early days, there were a limited number of devices that were capable of connecting to the internet. Today devices with this capability have expanded significantly, from refrigerators to toasters and medical devices. These devices or 'things' connect to the internet wirelessly and can collect and transfer data through the network. These devices can also connect to each other. This system of interconnected devices is called the Internet of Things.

The benefits and risks of IoT

Since the objects that can be part of IoT are so varied the data they collect about users is also diverse. These smart devices are collecting data about what you watch on TV, how often you make toast, what groceries you place in your fridge, how often you use your medical device, and more. The goal is for the devices to use this data to predict behavior and make your life easier. For example, your toaster knows how often you make toast and your refrigerator knows you are running low on bread and so the fridge can remind you to pick some up when you are out.

They say that data is the new oil, data is valuable and hence there is an incentive to steal it. Therefore there is a risk that hackers will find a way to break into an IoT system and steal user data. The other risk is device manipulation. Smart devices are essentially very small computers. If a hacker gains access to a device, they could potentially manipulate it to act in ways that it is not supposed to. For example, a hacker could increase the dosage dispensed by a medical device, add specific items to a shopping list, etc.

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What is the internet of things security (IoT security)

As IoT becomes more commonplace and the number of devices connected to the internet has increased. This need to ensure these devices are secure has become urgent. The area of technology that deals with securing connected devices are called IoT security. There are a lot of vulnerabilities with IoT. There are three main reasons for this:

a) Lack of user knowledge:

Most people do not understand what IoT is and how it works. At times users use smart devices without realizing that they are connected to the internet. The lack of knowledge means that users sometimes fail to take basic safety measures and increase their vulnerability.

b) No production standards:

As the technology is still new, there are consistent standards in place for companies manufacturing IoT devices. This means that many products are released into the market without proper security in place. For example, the company TrendNet sold their SecurView cameras to customers with extremely poor security. The cameras were marketed for use as baby monitors or home security. However, due to faulty software any person who had the IP address to the camera could watch its feed. Between April 2010 and January 2012, the company transmitted user's login information in readable text without any encryption. It is basic security practice to ensure that IP addresses are protected and to encrypt login information. However, due to a lack of production standards and oversight, TrendNet sold cameras to users that left them highly vulnerable to hackers.

c) Maintenance and updates:

Once sold companies many companies do not invest money to ensure their devices are maintained properly and receive regular updates. Updates are necessary because they help protect a system or device from new threats that were identified and can patch any security vulnerabilities in the existing code. As IoT devices are often poorly maintained they have increased vulnerability.

3 Tips to improve IoT security

Security breaches are hitting the websites all over the world. It is important or you to secure your data, financial, operational and management records. Following are the three tips to improve your IoT security

a) Create a dedicated IoT network:

Instead of connecting your devices to the main network, create a separate network for your SMART devices. Restrict the interactions these devices have with your main network. This will allow the devices to connect to each other and the internet but they will not have access to any sensitive files or information on your main network.

b) Prevent identity spoofing

This technique is more relevant for businesses that have a large number of IoT devices on their system. The IT department should ensure that every device connected to the system has a unique identifier. This will prevent hackers from pretending to be a connected device (identify spoofing) and gaining access to secure information.

c) Update software and credentials

Ensure that the software on your SMART devices is updated and that you have a strong password set. Where possible opt for two-step verification. These actions can help ensure devices are more secure at the code level and make it more difficult for hackers to exploit the system. Let's look at some examples of IoT devices that you might be familiar with.

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3 Top selling IoT devices:

  1. Google Home: Google home has the largest share of IoT devices in 2021 at 48%[2]. It is a smart speaker that is voice-controlled and can be used to control a variety of smart devices in a home, like smart lights and music systems.
  2. Amazon Echo: Close behind Google is another smart speaker by Amazon. The echo has the popular voice assistant Alexa and can be used to check the weather, play music, get information, and more.
  3. August Doorbell Cam: This popular doorbell cam will capture video when it senses motion on your doorstep. You can use it to unlock your door from anywhere and keep an eye on what is happening outside your door.

Smart devices are here to stay. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of these devices and what security vulnerabilities they may have before integrating them into your business or your home.

1. Nov 2016, Statista Research Department, "Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices installed base worldwide from 2015 to 2025", Statista [available online] https://www.statista.com/statistics/471264/iot-number-of-connected-devices-worldwide/ [accessed March 2021]
2. Dec 2020, "The Ultimate List of Internet of Things Statistics for 2021", Profit from tech [available online] https://www.profitfromtech.com/internet-of-things-statistics/ [accessed Mar 2021]