8 Key IoT Security Challenges and Proven Solutions from the Field
Stay ahead of cyber risks – prevent mistakes that could ruin your budget and reputation. Discover key vulnerabilities in IoT app development and learn strategies for safeguarding your app and user data.
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At Droids On Roids, we work daily on developing connectivity applications that interact seamlessly with our clients’ custom IoT devices. We know firsthand how crucial it is to prioritize security in this area. This inspired us to create this article.
What is IoT security?
IoT security encompasses the strategies and techniques used to safeguard Internet of Things (IoT) systems from cyber threats and vulnerabilities. This comprehensive approach involves, among other things, the protection of devices, networks, and the data they handle. It’s achieved through the implementation of robust security protocols, encryption standards, diligent firmware updates, and so on.
The dynamic nature of IoT security is full of ongoing challenges, due to the regular discovery of flaws in IoT systems. Effective security management hinges on several core practices:
- the fortification of system components,
- maintaining up-to-date firmware,
- implementing access management,
- active threat monitoring,
- and prompt response to identified security gaps.
By securing IoT devices and work environments, you lower the risk of them becoming the entry points to other parts of the network. Secure devices won’t leak sensitive data.
IoT security weaknesses span across diverse sectors, affecting everything from automobiles and energy grids to wearable technology and home automation systems.
Recent studies, for example, have revealed vulnerabilities in webcams, making them susceptible to hacking attempts that could breach networks. Similarly, security loopholes in smartwatches have exposed users to privacy infringements by allowing cybercriminals to track wearers’ locations.
The realm of IoT security is vast and complex. However, with vigilance and proper safeguards in place, it is possible to substantially mitigate the risks and protect sensitive data across various applications.
- Today’s 11 IoT Challenges and Solutions That Work
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Why is IoT security crucial to your project’s success?
The goal is to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches. In sectors such as healthcare, it’s important to safeguard sensitive user information. To establish robust IoT security, it is crucial to address all facets of protection.
One major concern is the potential for cyberattacks. Hackers can exploit your vulnerable IoT devices. It can gain them unauthorized access to your network or data. Leading to data breaches, financial losses, and damage to your reputation. The nature of IoT devices means that a compromise in one device can affect the entire ecosystem, amplifying the impact of any security breach.
Another consequence of neglecting IoT security is regulatory compliance. It varies depending on your industry and the type of data you process. But it especially applies to medicine. You may be subject to specific data protection and privacy regulations. Failure to meet these requirements can result in penalties, legal issues, and loss of customer trust.
Taking proactive measures to enforce security not only helps you meet compliance obligations. It also demonstrates your commitment to safeguarding user data.
Security vulnerabilities can lead to system malfunctions, service disruptions, and degraded user experiences. Your users rely on your app to be dependable. This is especially true in a healthcare context. The integrity of data and patient privacy are essential there. By prioritizing security, you avoid potential interruptions and maintain trust.
Ignoring IoT security can have serious implications for the success of your project. It can lead to severe consequences. This can include data breaches, financial losses, and legal issues. Finally, a lack of security may damage your reputation. By prioritizing IoT security from the start, you can mitigate these risks. It will also instill trust in your users, and set a solid foundation for the growth and success of your project.
8 Common security challenges in IoT app development
Developing IoT apps comes with a set of common security challenges. These include addressing vulnerabilities in device firmware and authentication protocols. Moreover, it also entails ensuring the secure transmission and storage of data. Below, I present 8 key IoT security risks, but this list is not exhaustive.
1. Default credentials and user neglect
Preventing the use of default passwords is an important security challenge even in simple applications, but this is heightened in the wider IoT context. They are often weak and well guessable. Users purchasing these devices may not be aware of the need to change these passwords. Thus, they leave their IoT devices vulnerable to password hacking and brute-forcing attempts.
Weak logins provide a gateway to gaining unauthorized access to IoT devices. Malicious actors can then exploit their functionalities.
How to address this challenge
Combating this issue includes not only actions on your side, but educating your users on the importance of changing default passwords. You can also prompt them to change default passwords on the first app launch.
2. Rushed app releases and insufficient testing
This security challenge stems from the lack of focus on testing and development. Some companies neglect security to bring IoT products to market in a rush. Furthermore, once deployed, the absence of regular security updates further compounds the problem. Nowadays, fortunately, the awareness of IoT security has grown. There is increasing recognition regarding the importance of device security.
How to address this challenge
You should focus on security throughout the entire IoT product lifecycle. This includes regularly updating devices with security patches to address vulnerabilities. Companies should also invest in training and educating their development teams to ensure they are familiar with IoT security best practices. That’s a proactive approach to addressing security concerns.
3. Growing threat of IoT malware and ransomware
The potential risk of malware and ransomware targeting these devices has increased. That’s because of the rapid proliferation of IoT-connected devices. Cybercriminals have identified them as attractive targets for launching attacks.
Among the prominent threats, we need to consider IoT botnet malware. These bots have emerged as one of the most common forms of malware targeting IoT devices. Malicious actors exploit vulnerabilities in IoT systems to compromise many devices. Next, they use them to carry out large-scale attacks.
One well-known incident related to a botnet on IoT devices is the Mirai botnet attack. Mirai malware infected a large number of poorly secured IoT devices, including cameras, routers, and DVRs, by guessing default passwords. The infected devices were then used to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which caused widespread disruption to popular websites and services.
How to address this challenge
To protect your app or business against this, it is crucial to implement strong authentication mechanisms. Don’t forget about encrypted communication protocols.
4. User privacy risks
IoT devices gather, send, store, and process vast amounts of user data. So, there is an inherent risk of sharing this data with or selling to third parties. Users usually agree to terms of service without reading them, resulting in a lack of awareness about the potential usage of their data. This absence of transparency can raise significant concerns about user privacy.
How to address this challenge
IoT manufacturers should arrange transparent data handling practices. This includes providing clear and understandable privacy policies. Don’t forget about obtaining valid consent from users.
5. Insecure interfaces
Many IoT devices suffer from weak or non-existent encryption, leaving them susceptible to unauthorized access and data breaches. Additionally, insufficient data authentication mechanisms can further compromise the security of IoT devices and the sensitive data they handle.
Attackers may use compromised IoT devices to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, resulting in service disruptions and downtime. Insecure interfaces may also open the way for unauthorized tampering with device functionalities. Furthermore, without robust authentication mechanisms, IoT devices may be vulnerable to impersonation attacks.
How to address this challenge
Implement robust encryption and authentication mechanisms. For example, ensure that data transmission is encrypted using strong encryption protocols like HTTPS.
6. Vulnerable remote work environments
The global pandemic accelerated the rise of remote working, creating a new layer of challenges within the realm of IoT security. Organizational networks usually have robust security measures in place. Unfortunately, home networks often lack the same level of protection as corporate networks. This discrepancy in security standards highlights the need for addressing IoT security concerns not only within organizations but also in remote work settings.
How to address this challenge
- Ensure that remote employees’ home networks are equipped with strong security measures. Encourage the use of modern routers with WPA3 encryption, and advise employees to regularly update their router firmware. This will help protect against unauthorized access to IoT devices and network resources.
- Remote workers should change default passwords on all IoT devices they use at home.
- Provide comprehensive cybersecurity training to remote employees, focusing on IoT security awareness. Teach them to recognize phishing attempts.
7. Handling large amounts of data
A lot of IoT devices generate and send a bunch of information. The sheer volume of data makes it challenging to maintain and protect it.
How to address this challenge
The best answer lies in implementing data oversight, management, and protection strategies. This can include the use of analytics and machine learning algorithms. With these, you can filter and analyze the data in real-time, prioritizing the most critical information.
8. Unskilled development teams
A significant security challenge arises from the engagement of unskilled teams. Developers lacking extensive experience in IoT app development may possess insufficient knowledge and awareness of security principles.
Furthermore, if your software partner hires contractors, they may bypass the stringent recruitment and screening processes typically required for employees. This applies not only to developers but also to testers and designers.
Consequently, this can lead to the adoption of insecure practices and the oversight of security flaws. Some individuals may also dismiss or downplay the significance of focusing on security concerns, thereby creating additional challenges. Others may prioritize work performance over quality and security.
How to address this challenge
Before signing a contract with a provider for your IoT application development, it’s essential to thoroughly vet the company. Specifically:
- Pay attention to the company’s experience in developing similar applications – check their portfolio for IoT projects.
- Check their client reviews; platforms like Clutch or GoodFirms can be helpful here.
- During discussions with the potential partner, inquire about their prioritization of security in IoT projects. Ask for specific details and examples of their practices in this area.
Let’s summarize what the key challenges in creating Internet of Things apps are.
Best IoT security practices
Implementing strong authentication protocols, encryption, and access controls are essential security practices. Updating the software on a regular basis is also crucial. Don’t forget about monitoring for vulnerabilities and conducting routine security audits.
Authentication protocols, encryption, and access control
Strong authentication protocols are the first line of defense against unauthorized access. This could involve multi-factor authentication (MFA). The user has to provide two or more pieces of evidence to verify their identity in order to log in and gain access. A popular example is Google’s 2-Step Verification. It combines something you know (your password) with something you have (your phone).
Encryption is the process of encoding data so that only authorized parties can access it. This is especially important in IoT, where devices transfer data over insecure networks. A widely used encryption standard is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).
Access control is about defining who (or what) has the right to access certain resources. This can be as simple as password-protected user accounts. An example of a tool providing those services is AWS IoT Core from Amazon.
One crucial best practice is to stay up to date with device and software updates. This will ensure you’re paying special attention to the libraries and packages used in development. That’s because they get embedded into the apps. However, you also should not overlook the development and testing tools.
There are automatic dependency update tools like Dependabot or Renovate. They simplify the process of keeping a codebase up to date. These tools automate the task of checking for and applying updates to dependencies. They waive the need for manual checks by developers. These tools ensure that the codebase is up-to-date with the latest secure versions.
Security audits play a pivotal role in ensuring the robustness and integrity of IoT apps. They involve:
- rigorously testing, analyzing, and assessing security controls,
- identifying potential vulnerabilities (like potential entry points for malicious attacks).
They will also inform you of weak authentication mechanisms or inadequate encryption protocols. By conducting security audits, organizations can identify and address security weaknesses.
Code review is an essential practice for ensuring security. It involves a person other than the developer who wrote the code. Such an individual reviews the code from a different perspective, which allows them to spot potential security and coding issues that may have been overlooked by the author.
Through code review, developers can leverage fresh perspectives and expertise. By integrating regular code review into the development process, organizations can enhance security.
Legal audits and privacy policies
Legal audits involve examining policies to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations. By assessing requirements, lawyers can identify gaps in security measures. They can recommend necessary actions, and ensure adherence to legal frameworks. This will enable you to mitigate legal and regulatory risks.
Privacy policies are also the essential components, outlining how you collect, store and share your users’ data. Lawyers also assist in incorporating data protection frameworks and consent mechanisms.
Choosing your development company wisely
As I mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to thoroughly evaluate the tech partner you want to hire for your IoT app development. This involves reviewing their portfolio, checking client feedback, and verifying their approach to security practices.
Insights on effective IoT security practices from our team
Explore two insights from my colleagues on the team regarding how we ensured safety in some of our connectivity projects.
In the IoT project I worked on, we prioritized user privacy and anonymity. This means we never linked the data we collected to specific users – not with their username, email, or any location or demographic information. By not physically possessing such data ourselves, even in the event of a hypothetical attack, the attackers also wouldn’t be able to link user activity to their profiles.
In my opinion, the process of creating a secure IoT device should begin at the concept development stage.
Consider the following with your development team:
- Does connecting our device to the internet add value for us and the user? Perhaps we can deliver similar value using local communication methods like Bluetooth or Zigbee.
- Do we genuinely need all the individual data sent by the IoT device to achieve the product’s goal?
- Does a smart thermometer really need to send information about the user’s home network name to the manufacturer’s servers?
- Should a smart camera send data about its location to the manufacturer?
If we must send some data, let’s do it securely:
- Use encrypted communication protocols like HTTPS.
- Apply additional techniques like HTTP Public Key Pinning to protect against man-in-the-middle attacks or Wi-Fi spoofing.
- Consider communicating with the server through a secure VPN tunnel, instead of the public internet.
The project I worked on involved handling sensitive medical information. The entire team felt responsible for ensuring the safety of this data from start to finish. We kept this in mind while developing the process of connecting to wearables, transmitting information between the application and the backend, and storing it while ensuring access only to authorized individuals.
In my opinion, security is paramount in IoT projects due to the nature of the data processed. This often includes sensitive information related to health and home, which is highly private. The clients I worked with were acutely aware that they needed to provide their users with the highest level of security.
At Droids On Roids, we have a solid track record in creating connectivity apps that help our clients achieve their business goals and high ROI. With over 10 years of experience in IoT projects across 5 different industries, from healthcare to entertainment, our work speaks for itself – just check out our reviews on Clutch.
Get in touch – we’d love to discuss your project and prepare a tailored proposal for you.
Key Internet of Things security standards and legislation
Below, I outline essential IoT security standards and legislation. These are important as they guide the development and deployment of secure and compliant IoT systems.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): a regulation in the European Union (EU) that protects the privacy and personal data of individuals. It includes provisions related to the security of IoT devices and the processing of IoT data. Read also: What does GDPR mean for Mobile App Owners? – 12 Use Cases
- NIST Cybersecurity Framework in the USA: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a framework to improve cybersecurity risk management across various sectors, including IoT. It provides guidelines, best practices, and standards for securing IoT devices and systems.
- IoT Security Compliance Framework: This is an initiative by the IoT Security Foundation to establish a comprehensive framework for ensuring the security of IoT systems. It includes a set of requirements, guidance, and checklists for organizations to assess and improve the security of their IoT products and services.
- Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act: This legislation in the United Kingdom (UK) mandates that consumer smart devices must have the capability to mitigate and protect against cyber attacks, ensuring a higher level of security for IoT devices in the market.
Examples of IoT security breaches and IoT hacks
Here are some examples of notable incidents that underscore the importance of safeguarding IoT systems against evolving threats.
- Ripple20 Vulnerabilities: In 2020, a series of critical vulnerabilities known as Ripple20 were discovered in a widely used IoT software library called Treck. These vulnerabilities allowed attackers to remotely execute code, gain unauthorized access, and potentially take control of IoT devices. This incident emphasized the importance of implementing security patches promptly and conducting comprehensive security assessments for IoT software and library dependencies.
- Ring Camera Hacks: Several incidents of Ring camera hacks were reported in 2019 and 2020. Attackers gained access to Ring security cameras by leveraging weak or reused passwords, enabling them to monitor camera feeds, communicate with users, or tamper with device settings. These incidents highlighted the importance of using strong, unique passwords and enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) to protect IoT devices from unauthorized access and potential privacy intrusions.
- Wawa Data Breach: In late 2019, Wawa, a popular convenience store chain in the United States, suffered a data breach that affected their payment systems and compromised customer information. The breach occurred through malware installed on their payment processing servers, targeting customer payment card data. While not exclusively an IoT breach, this incident highlights the importance of securing IoT-enabled payment systems and the potential risks of interconnected devices within retail and other industries.
These examples highlight the need for strong security across various industries and devices. It’s vital to follow best practices and stay on guard against new threats in the IoT landscape.
I hope you found this article on IoT security insightful. I’ve explored the importance of addressing IoT security issues and challenges. Ranging from device vulnerabilities, through work environment to data privacy concerns.
In today’s world, connected IoT devices are omnipresent. So, the challenges for network security have become more intricate. In response to these issues, many companies offer sophisticated security solutions that aim to protect not only traditional computers but also mobile devices and IoT gadgets. Advanced hackers can gain access to unsecured systems, underscoring the importance of IoT device security.
By following the best practices I mentioned, you can mitigate IoT security risks. You’ll also ensure the safety of IoT apps and devices to users. To effectively secure IoT devices, it is crucial to use multi-layered security strategies that address both physical and digital aspects of protection.
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As a business owner planning to develop an IoT app for your device, it’s necessary to prioritize security. Neglecting its measures can jeopardize your customers’ trust, expose you to legal and compliance risks, and generate costly downtime.
Stay proactive and ensure the safety of your IoT apps and devices. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below, or contact us.