Top 11 IoT Cybersecurity Challenges Facing Businesses

By Kasey Hewitt

Posted on May 17, 2021

As companies increasingly adopt Internet of Things (IoT) devices to enable business operations, they also adopt the risks associated with these technologies. According to research done by members of the IoT Cybersecurity Alliance (IoTCA), security was the primary barrier to IoT adoption. In an attempt to work towards better IoT security, the IoT Security Foundation released the second version of its IoT Security Compliance Framework (IoTSCF) in May 2020. As organizations look to deploy these technologies, they need to consider the following IoT cybersecurity risks and find ways to adequately mitigate them.

1. Lack of secure boot process

    A secure boot is the set of steps a device needs to follow during installation to run as expected. While building the boot code and burning it into a write-once chipset into the device during manufacturing offers security, that also limits the ability to update code later. This limits the ability to debug the device or provide additional security updates if someone discovers a new vulnerability. Devices lacking a secure boot process create a security risk because you have no way to prevent them from running malicious code.

    In order to mitigate this risk, you should enable the secure boot process by default as a way to prove legitimacy and establish trust.

    2. Exposed communications port(s)

      IoT devices use communications ports, like USB and RS232, to share data with other devices. Malicious actors can use these ports to gain root access, the privileged access that enables them to execute any commands or resources on a device.

      To mitigate this risk, organizations should ensure no one can physically access an IoT device’s communications ports. Additionally, you should ensure that all IoT devices communicate with authorized and authenticated entities.

      3. Lack of encryption

        According to a report from Palo Alto 98% of all IoT device traffic is unencrypted. This means that malicious actors can intercept the data using a man-in-the-middle attack or other eavesdropping methodology and gain access to sensitive data.

        To mitigate this risk, organizations should encrypt the networks that their IoT devices use to transmit data.

        4. Weak default passwords

          All IoT devices come with default passwords set by the manufacturer. Often, organizations forget to change these default passwords which means that malicious actors can use brute force and dictionary attacks to gain access to the devices.

          In response to this risk, the California legislature enacted Senate Bill 327 which requires that manufacturers equip devices with reasonable security features, including programming a unique password for each device manufactured.

          To mitigate this risk, organizations should enact and enforce password policies that are appropriate to the level of risk.

          5. Malware

            Cybercriminals increasingly use malware as an IoT attack methodology. According to one report, IoT malware increased 30% in the third quarter of 2020. Since IoT devices often lack the built-in security that other devices have, they are easy targets for malware. Malicious actors can use IoT malware to deploy Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, scan for open ports, or act as a vector for brute force attacks.

            Problematically, the nature of IoT firmware means that you can’t just install anti-virus software on them. To mitigate malware’s impact, organizations can consider using network segmentation to prevent malware from moving laterally.

            6. Legacy operating systems

              Often, IoT devices run on operating systems no longer supported by their manufacturers. This means that malicious actors can successfully use common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) during their attacks.

              As a way to mitigate risk, organizations should apply intrusion detection capabilities to these devices so that they can rapidly detect threats and remediate weaknesses.

              7. Insecure web interface

                Manufacturers often implement a web interface so users can control the IoT device. Malicious actors can use credential theft attacks to gain unauthorized access to these web-based applications. If they can control the application, they can control the device.

                In this case, establishing and enforcing a robust password policy for users who access the application is a risk mitigation strategy.

                8. Lack of visibility into device security

                  Based on how an organization uses IoT, device security visibility can be a challenge. Although IoT devices do generate event log data, the distributed nature of their deployment makes capturing information difficult. To appropriately manage device security, organizations need to know what typical event log data looks like so they can recognize and detect abnormalities that might indicate a security event. However, the number of IoT devices an organization maintains makes this type of data aggregation a challenge.

                  One risk mitigation strategy might be to aggregate all IoT log data and monitoring in a single location. By doing this, you can review how data flows through the application and correlate this data with network traffic as well.

                  9. Third-party components

                    IoT devices often include third-party software, like open source libraries or chip manufacturer components. This means that the devices come with their own security issues and inherit security issues associated with third-party components. For example, in 2020, a cybersecurity firm found a collection of nineteen vulnerabilities that it referred to as Ripple20. The Ripple20 vulnerabilities impacted devices using the software library developed by Treck, Inc. Ultimately, this impacted a wide range of vendors and devices, including HP, Schneider Electric, and Intel.

                    To mitigate the risks associated with third-party components, organizations should consider IoT supply chain risks before deploying them in their IT stacks.

                    10. Unencrypted updates

                      While many IoT devices cannot apply security updates, newer models incorporate this security capability. However, the security patch installation process may not incorporate encryption, which increases the risk that malicious actors can modify the device’s code.

                      In order to mitigate risks associated with unencrypted updates, organizations should consider connecting IoT devices to encrypted networks when updating software.

                      11. Inability to detect and identify devices

                        In order to secure an IoT device, you need to know that it connects to your networks and systems. However, malicious actors often install fake, malicious devices, known as “rogue devices,” on networks. However, organizations often lack the ability to detect and manage IoT devices. With large numbers of connected devices on a network, IoT becomes an appealing target.

                        In an attempt to mitigate this risk, organizations should strengthen their asset management processes.

                        SecurityScorecard for continuous IoT monitoring

                        SecurityScorecard’s security ratings platform enables organizations to continuously monitor their systems, networks, and applications to detect new risks and remediate threats rapidly. Our easy-to-read security ratings use an A-F scale and monitor across ten groups of risk factors, including web application security, network security, and patching cadence.

                        As organizations increasingly adopt IoT, managing security becomes more critical. Maintaining a robust security posture and documenting continuous mitigation strategies is a challenge in complex, hybrid, and multi-cloud IT stacks. With SecurityScorecard’s security ratings, organizations gain visibility into their security posture and enhance their ability to maintain controls’ effectiveness.

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