Exploring the Vulnerability of IoT Devices and the Best Practices for Securing Them
Table of Contents
The risk concealed in convenience
We live in an era where you need not stay at home to answer the door, where you can speak to your refrigerator, and much more. The concept of the ‘Internet of Things’ is a huge leap in technology. Certain fictitious features portrayed in early dramas like Knight Rider have become a reality today. The internet plays a major role in these innovations. IoT devices take off a large part of human intervention from, not only household devices, but also devices related to a number of industries like medical care, transport, sensors, and agriculture. This makes our lives much more convenient but veiled within this ease and luxury lies the dark shadow of vulnerabilities. This article elaborates on the easily overlooked aspect associated with IoT devices – their vulnerabilities.
A fantasy dream that has come true
It is astounding how an inexplicable notion that emerged in the mind of an individual transforms into a whole new field of technological utilization. The advance of technology has affected all aspects of our lives and seems to have reached its peak – although, in reality, it has not. With the aid of technology, simple run-of-the-mill objects that used to be unintelligent and undistinguished have been transformed into smart devices. Several decades ago, this concept would have been merely a fantasy portrayed in a fictional story.
Wearable technology includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart glasses, Bluetooth headsets, smart jewelry, etc. and smart homes include smart speakers, robot vacuum cleaners, smart refrigerators, smart thermostats, sleep assistants, etc. A number of fields like farming- both livestock and crops, health, automotive, fashion and design, retail, advertising, transportation, and business are all influenced by IoT technology.
Humans have always sought convenience through technology. But all luxuries and conveniences are associated with some sort of exertion. Similarly, the ease we experience through smart devices is recompensed by associated vulnerabilities. Hackers are always on the lookout for innovative ways and means to exploit information systems and have their prying eyes on easy prey such as internet-connected technology. Just as for conventional networks or information systems, IoT networks are equally prone to vulnerability exploitation by cyberattackers.
What is IoT?
IoT, short for Internet of Things, is the network of devices or ‘Things’ connected together via the Internet incorporated with technologies like cloud computing, sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for data gathering, processing, and exchanging purposes. The data thus gathered is used to learn, predict and help the user with the task accomplished by the device. Connecting useful devices to the Internet can intensify their benefit and enhance their value. Through IoT, physical devices can function with minimum human involvement making the user’s life easier.. IoT enables making the physical world meet the digital world, literally. The technology includes a large range of devices from kitchen and household appliances to complicated industrial and automobile appliances.
IoT cannot be introduced as new technology or a trend. In fact, the origin of IoT runs back to the 1980s when some university students attempted to refashion a vending machine making it the first indication of adding intelligence to a physical device. This initiative later led to the development of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). The term ‘Internet of Things’ was devised in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, whilst attempting to mount RFID chips on products in order to track them when working at Procter & Gamble. The technology that started back then has gradually evolved, past ages of smartwatches and smart refrigerators through smart homes, and has now made concepts of smart cities and self-driving cars possible.
By the end of 2023, 43 billion devices are predicted to be connected to the internet and the number is expected to rise to 75.44 billion by 2025. It is evident that IoT is a fast-growing industry and we see no deceleration in its growth speed in the future. We experience the luxury of IoT devices always and everywhere. From the time a person wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night, he can be utilizing some sort of IoT service and this prospect will definitely increase going forward.
What makes an IoT device vulnerable?
Ever wondered whether your smart lock or your robot watch would pose a threat to your privacy or information security? Although we do not tend to be concerned about this fact, there is a huge risk associated with the smart devices we use daily.
The amount of data associated with IoT systems is greater than conventional information systems. IoT handles such a massive amount of data that it is measured in zettabytes. (1021 bytes). They can record and have access to, not just our sensitive information like names, passwords, and contact numbers, but all our daily activities, our most personal preferences and dislikes, biometrics, etc. This can be highly treacherous and create more opportunities for malicious hackers to launch attacks.
IoT is utilized in almost all kinds of industries. There’s rarely an area untouched by its allure. Even if there is, it would undoubtedly be upgraded by IoT, in the near future. This creates numerous opportunities for hackers to go beyond their regular scope of targets and extend their attacks. Users have become so obsessed with the services provided by IoT devices that security measures to mitigate associated vulnerabilities have been overlooked. Typically, IoT devices lack built-in measures to mitigate security threats. User unawareness and inattentiveness are some of the main reasons that lead to vulnerable IoT devices. Vendors and manufacturers are partly responsible and the user is not to be blamed entirely. Devices with limited capacities restrict security defenses against cyber attacks.
Vulnerabilities of IoT applications
With the widespread use of IoT devices, the number of vulnerabilities identified related to the security of IoT devices has risen. According to research carried out by Claroty Ltd, vulnerabilities associated with IoT devices have increased by 57% in the first half of the year 2022 compared to the previous six months.
Some of the main IoT vulnerabilities are discussed below.
Weak passwords always tend to take the foremost position in almost every IoT-related vulnerability list. Weak or hardcoded passwords are a frequently available vulnerability that allows attackers to compromise IoT devices.
There can be several different factors causing password-related vulnerabilities.
- Using short, common, and easily guessable passwords.
- Going on with default hard-coded passwords.
- Not using any password at all.
- Some IoT devices do not require any password change at all.
Compromising a device using a weak password as an entry point may not just be hazardous to the device itself, but later can be the source of a ripple of large-scale attacks.
The Mirai Malware is an ideal example of this; Mirai imposed on a number of IoT devices by referring to a table of 61 common hard-coded usernames and passwords. These infected devices were used to unleash the world’s first 1Tbps Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on a number of servers.
Users can follow measures like using complex, uncommon passwords, avoiding common passwords like ‘123456’ and ‘password’, and refraining from continuing with default hardcoded passwords. Manufacturers too have a part in this securing mechanism. Devices must be configured such that complex passwords, password expiration, and one-time passwords are imposed so that users have no choice other than to modify their credentials and follow proper guidelines. Two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication, and biometric authentication are some suitable options.
Weak update mechanisms
The main objective when developing an IoT device is the convenience of use and connectivity. Security generally comes second. An IoT device can be secure at purchase but vulnerabilities may be exposed with time. Therefore a good update mechanism must be available to fix them and secure the device regularly and consistently.
Devices with weak update mechanisms carry with them malicious code and software. Outdated code or software like open-source code or third-party software can comprise vulnerabilities that can expose a system to attacks.
The consequences of weak update processes can be reduced by regularly updating your systems and making sure that your IoT devices do not run on outdated software.
Exposed interfaces of IoT devices like Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), web applications, mobile applications, and cloud interfaces can act as sources of vulnerabilities. They can expose the device to attacks.
As a solution, interfaces can be secured by mechanisms like providing access only for authorized parties, enabling digital certificates, using the latest up-to-date protocols and standards for building applications, and following guidelines and good practices in processes.
Lack of Data Protection
IoT devices deal with a large amount of data. This data is exchanged among devices and is, most often, stored in the cloud. Improper data protection related to communication and storage poses a significant threat to the security of IoT devices. An attacker can gain access to your data by eavesdropping on the data transfer path. The best way to address this challenge is cryptography. Data encryption and decryption ensure secure data transmission.
Improper IoT Device Management
Managing IoT devices is essential for the mitigation of vulnerabilities and exploits. An organization must, at all times, be aware of all connected devices, even if they are no longer used. The negligence of inactive devices can give an opportunity for attackers to exploit your organization.
How to protect IoT devices from vulnerabilities?
Securing IoT devices cannot be considered the sole responsibility of the user. All related stakeholders are responsible for IoT device protection in different ways. The best practice is to take security into account at the early stages of the design process which is done by manufacturers. Considering security at the beginning can save a lot of time and cost spent on rectifying vulnerabilities. Addressing known vulnerabilities, patching existing ones, and testing and checking for any new vulnerabilities after production, are all good practices to be followed at the manufacturing stage.
Users must be aware of all IoT devices under their control and must be acquainted with the risks associated with IoT devices. They must follow good practices like installing updates, changing default passwords, and enabling automatic updates to protect their devices from vulnerabilities.
Organizations, too, have their share of the responsibility for ensuring IoT device protection. One of the most crucial tasks is to keep track of and monitor all IoT devices connected. The organization must then run regular scans to identify any malicious activity or threat. Another effective practice is to get assistance from a subject-specialized third party.
Although most manufacturers seem to be inclined towards mobile applications for the control of IoT devices, certain organizations tend to use web applications, mainly due to the convenience of use and the higher amount of data processing capacity.
Vulnerabilities are a common predicament associated with web applications. To protect IoT devices from these vulnerabilities, it is imperative to follow appropriate strategies specifically designed for the purpose. However, with the huge number and variety of web security solutions available, selecting the ideal one can be quite challenging.
eBuilder Security, partnered with Acunetix, excels at providing world-class security solutions at affordable prices to secure your web applications from vulnerabilities. With unparalleled on-tap SECaaS (Security-as-a-Service) services, you can delegate all your web application-related encumbrance to us and ensure the safety of your IoT devices, with relatively minimal costs and effort.
Harnessing technology for the convenience of mankind is not off the beam. What use is technology if it doesn’t help humans ease their lives? But one thing to not let slip off our attention is the security of those devices. Realizing and believing that there are a set of people out there looking for a vulnerability in your device is the first and foremost step in protecting your IoT devices. Ignorance of the facts can lead to catastrophic results.
Assuredly a massive number of IoT devices will be available in the world in the near future. With the increase in the number, the risks associated will also increase. Healthcare, transportation, agriculture, retail, and manufacturing are some of the industries where IoT devices frequent. When a field like healthcare is considered, the risk associated with it is immense as it deals with the lives of patients. Therefore knowledge about IoT device vulnerabilities and the cruciality of their mitigation is important. A simple task like running an update or changing a password could prevent a huge threat. The high risk associated with IoT vulnerabilities could simply be mitigated by good practices followed by all related stakeholders.