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The Internet of Broken Things? Seven key facts about IoT

By Julia Gabel
Wed 11 Apr 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

With the number of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices on the rise, Nuvias Group's EVP of Cyber Security, Ian Kilpatrick, has compiled a list of seven key facts to consider when working with IoT devices. 

1. IoT - a cybercriminal’s dream

Any device or sensor with an IP address connected to a corporate network is an entry point for cybercriminals - the equivalent of an organisation leaving its front door wide open for thieves.

Managing endpoints within an organisation is already a challenge; a 2017 Autotask survey shows 63% of IT service providers have seen a 50% increase in the number of endpoints they’re managing, compared to the previous year.

IoT will usher in a raft of new network-connected devices that threaten to overwhelm the IT department charged with securing them – a thankless task considering the lack of basic safeguards in place on the devices.

Of particular concern is that many IoT devices are not designed to be secured or updated after deployment.

This means that any vulnerabilities discovered post-deployment cannot be protected against in the device; and corrupted devices cannot be cleansed.

In an environment with hundreds or thousands of insecure or corrupted devices, this can raise huge operational and security challenges.

2. IT or OT

IT professionals will now be expected to become experts in smart lighting, heating and air conditioning systems, not to mention security cameras and integrated facilities management systems.

A lack of experience in managing this Operating Technology (OT), rather than IT, should be a cause of concern. It’s seen as operational rather than strategic, and deployment and management is often shifted well away from Board awareness and oversight.

The majority of organisations are deploying IoT technology with not only a lack of strategic direction, but with minimal regard to the risk profile or the tactical requirements needed to secure them against unforeseen consequences.

3. Ransomware attacks are on the rise

There has been an almost 2000% jump in ransomware detections since 2015.

Ransomware became a public talking point in 2017 when WannaCry targeted more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries, with damages ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

While most ransomware attacks currently infiltrate an organisation via email, IoT presents a new delivery system for both mass and targeted attacks.

Consider the potentially life-threatening impact of ransomware on smart devices within critical applications - the ability of criminals to shut down critical business and logistics systems has already been repeatedly demonstrated.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that a 2017 survey found that almost half of small businesses questioned would pay a ransom on IoT devices to reclaim their data.

4. Increasing intensity and sophistication of attacks

According to Fortinet’s latest Quarterly Threat Landscape report, three of the top twenty attacks identified in Q4 2017 were IoT botnets.

But it says unlike previous attacks, which focused on exploiting a single vulnerability, new IoT botnets such as Reaper and Hajime target multiple vulnerabilities simultaneously, which is much harder to combat.

Wi-Fi cameras were targeted by criminals, with more than four times the number of exploit attempts detected over Q3 2017.

The challenge is that none of these detections is associated with a known security threat, which Fortinet rightly describes as “one of the more troubling aspects of the myriad of vulnerable devices that make up the IoT.”

5. Can you see the problem?

Another huge problem is that once a network in attacked, it’s much easier for subsequent attacks to occur.

Yet, recent data shows just half of IT decision makers feel confident they have full visibility and control of all devices with network access.

The same percentage believe they have full visibility of the access level of all third parties, who frequently have access to networks, and 54% say they have full visibility and control of all employees.

This is a worrying lack of confidence in network visibility and should be a concern for organisations. Yet, the same figures show basic security measures like network segmentation are only being planned by 24% of businesses in 2018. Without network segmentation, malware entering a network will often be left to spread.

Elsewhere, less than half of organisations have formal patching policies and procedures in place, and only about a third patch their IoT devices within 24 hours after a fix becomes available.

But because updating IoT devices by nature is more challenging, many remain vulnerable even after patches are issued, so organisations need to properly document and test each IoT device on their network.

6. Turning a blind eye

Both consumers and manufacturers seem to be burying their heads in the sand when it comes to IoT security.

Despite security concerns often cited as the number one barrier to greater IoT adoption, Trustwave research shows 61% of firms who have deployed some level of IoT technology have had to deal with a security incident related to IoT, and 55% believe an attack will occur sometime during the next two years.

Only 28% of organisations surveyed consider that their IoT security strategy is ‘very important’ when compared to other cybersecurity priorities.

More worrying is that more than a third believe that IoT security is only ‘somewhat’ or ‘not’ important!

Some more troublesome stats - fewer than half of organisations consistently assess the IoT security risk posed by third-party partners, another 34% do so only periodically, and 19% don’t perform third-party IoT risk assessment at all.

7. Efforts to standardise

These security concerns can obviously paint the adoption of IoT in a negative light. But is there anything being done to mitigate these risks?

In the UK, the government’s five-year National Cyber Security Programme (NCSP) is looking to work with the IT industry to build security into IoT devices through its ‘Secure by Default’ initiative.

The group published a review earlier this month that addresses key risks related to consumer IoT and proposes a draft Code of Practice for IoT manufacturers and developers.

Recommendations include: ensuring that IoT devices do not contain default passwords; defining and implementing vulnerability disclosure policy; ensuring software for devices is regularly updated; and a proposal for a voluntary labelling scheme.

While there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, it may not be enough.

Regulators won’t force device manufacturers to introduce the necessary security regulations and practices before thousands of businesses fall victim to attacks. Turning a blind eye to the IoT security risks could leave your organisation permanently paralysed.

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