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What does IoT Mean for the Cybersecurity of Tomorrow?

Article Written by Brian NeSmith, CEO and Co-founder of Arctic Wolf Networks

Whether preparing to defend against the latest version of the Mirai botnet or ward off the recently resurfaced Locky ransomware, the underlying story remains the same - IoT is growing fast and bringing with it an evolving and expanding threat landscape.

As businesses introduce more connected devices into their offices, from thermostats to alarms and even lighting systems, they are adding billions of network entry points for cybercriminals - each one an additional target to be compromised. While these concerns once seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie, with an estimated 20.4 billion devices expected to be connected by 2020, these devices are now a reality and it is time to prepare.

The predicted growth over the next 3 years raises further concerns around the findings from a recent survey at Black Hat USA 2016, which revealed 70 percent of participating IT experts indicated that their organization wasn't prepared for IoT related threats. More recently, Verizon's 2017 Data Breach Digest brought to light countless real-world examples, highlighting companies, and even universities, that have suffered breaches as a result of unsecure networks supporting connected devices, proving that the concerns of IT experts are warranted.

It may seem overwhelming to many organizations, but they can successfully protect themselves against the increasing threats. A properly executed cybersecurity plan allows businesses to have the best of both worlds with IoT, reaping the benefits, such as improving enterprise engagement and increasing process monitoring, and upholding a strong security posture. Businesses looking to build or adopt connected devices need to shift their mentality toward security and take a comprehensive look at the changing threatscape.

A ‘Thing' Can Be Anything

How do we define the "thing" of Internet of Things? With every passing day, another connected device is created. From the latest healthcare record system to company's security cameras, everything is becoming connected. Each new device adds new vulnerabilities, not just by the expansion of entry points, but by the nature of those entry points. Businesses preparing to incorporate IoT devices must consider the security of three areas for all ‘things':

  • First, organizations must address insecure web interfaces. "Internet" is in the name, so ensuring the connections themselves are secure is vital to reducing threats to a network.
  • Secondly, businesses must move beyond the connections to their potentially insecure endpoints. It is up to organizations to identify a distinct approach to endpoint security based on their needs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Regardless of the tools being used, each endpoint should be equipped with antivirus to reduce the chance of a malware infection that would open up the gates to the rest of the network. Once these security measures are in place, businesses need to keep a watchful eye on how endpoints are behaving and interacting with the rest of the network.
  • Since work is no long conducted simply within the walls of an office, the final area of focus is mobile interfaces with access to the network. The IoT is everywhere, so determining a secure mobile strategy, including monitoring credentials and any accidental exposure, is imperative

Vulnerabilities Identified, Now What? 

Knowledge of where your defenses are most vulnerable is critical. Understanding if your biggest weaknesses lie within mobile interfaces or insecure endpoints is key to adjusting security measures for the changing attack surface. Business can learn from recent attacks, and take these initial steps to begin protecting the identified areas susceptible to a breach:
  • Devices often have weak or default passwords, creating an easy entry point for hackers, much like in the Mirai attacks. Changing all default passwords and using different logins for each device is a simple cybersecurity best practices that is vital in the age of IoT.
  • Guidelines should be created and understood at all levels of a business to quickly call out anomalous behavior of sensors. Sensors perform a very specific task or set of tasks, so detecting any suspicious behavior should be relatively simple if the technology and personnel monitoring the network understand which behaviors are authorized upfront.
  • Along similar lines, business should identify all devices being used on their network, as well as their location and the type of data they generate on a regular basis. This understanding of what data is living and being created where will help safeguard IT infrastructure.
  • Utilizing an encrypted connection whenever possible also helps to mitigate the risk of attack on the many endpoints within the IoT.

Threats from IoT devices aren't going away, and as connectivity evolves, cybersecurity practices will also need to adjust. Traditional network and endpoint security, will no longer do the trick, businesses must be more diligent in monitoring all network connections. By considering the worst case scenario, security leaders can begin to develop protections that address the applicable risks for their organization.

In this era of connectivity, detection and response strategies need to be more closely integrated with cybersecurity practices. One way to achieve this is by combining the benefits of technology and human oversight to keep a watchful eye over expanded attack surfaces. A blend of these security measures is particularly important to ward off new and emerging threats, for which an overreliance on technology will only benefit bad actors. In many ways, securing an IoT-enabled business requires much of the same, but the game has changed in that the sheer volume of endpoints, and therefore area to secure, is quickly multiplying.


About the Author

Brian NeSmith 

Brian NeSmith | Co-founder and CEO
Brian brings more than 30 years of experience to Arctic Wolf Networks. In his previous position as CEO of Blue Coat Systems, he led the company's growth from $5M to over $500M per year as the industry's leading web proxy platform. Prior to that, Brian was the CEO of Ipsilon Networks (acquired by Nokia) which became the leading appliance platform for Check Point firewalls. His early career includes product management, marketing, and general management at Newbridge Networks. He was also a consultant for Network Strategies, Inc. Brian holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Published Friday, May 05, 2017 8:03 AM by David Marshall
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