IoT security: what are the risks and how to keep your IoT device safe?

Małgorzata Kawałkowska

Business Researcher

The implementation of IoT technology does not always go hand-in-hand with maintaining appropriate security measures, which unfortunately leaves the door open for hackers. Check what risks lie ahead and how you can ensure that your IoT devices are well protected against them.  

Why is IoT security so critical?  

The security of your IoT devices should be a priority because not only our data but even safety is at stake. If hackers find vulnerabilities in the IoT security, they can obviously steal your sensitive business data or block access to it for ransom. However, in the worst-case scenario, hackers can even gain control over a device and change its parameters, causing it to break, act in an unexpected way or even lead to an accident.   

The cyberattacks on IoT devices are becoming more and more frequent. Kaspersky, a vendor of Internet security solutions, detected more than 1.5 billion attempts to steal data or build botnets only in the first half of 2021 (!). It’s more than a 100% increase compared to 2020, when “only” 639 million attacks were registered. However, Kaspersky, claims that most of these are preventable with the right measures and best practices in place.  

Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges to IoT security and how these risks can be prevented.  

What IoT security risks might you encounter? 

Ransomware threat 

A majority of IoT devices collect large amounts of sensitive data related to your business operations. Hackers may use malware to get access to and gain control over the data that they can steal or make public.  

A special kind of malware, named ransomware, blocks access to specific files or an IoT device itself by encrypting them until you pay the hackers to give you the decryption key. For Industrial IoT, this scenario might have very serious consequences – imagine machines or a power supply are turned off by hackers if the ransom is not paid in time… 

DDoS attacks 

A botnet is a network of devices connected to the IoT that are infected with malware (they are called bots), which allows hackers (botmasters) to control them remotely. They are used to conduct distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to disrupt the operations of businesses or organisations. 

The strength is in numbers. Each bot (and there can be hundreds of them) sends a request to the target’s IP address, causing the network or server to be overwhelmed, and thus slow or even unavailable. Botnets may be used by hackers to paralyze an organisation, either to get the money or, in some cases, to simply damage a competitor’s business.  

PDoS attacks 

In the case of permanent denial of service attack, the IoT device is not a means to attack a server or network, but it’s the target. The goal is to corrupt a device – permanently disrupt the functionality or delete all the stored files. Since there’s no way to undo the damage, the PDoS attacks are especially dangerous. 

Using your data transfer  

Hackers may generate excessive traffic, which could use a significant amount of data transfer. You may only notice that when you get your monthly invoice.  

IoT device hijacking  

Although so far, there hasn’t been a major case of IoT device hijacking, it is a possible scenario. Recently, security researchers found a critical vulnerability in an IoT security camera system that could lead to hackers gaining unauthorized control over it. They could not only steal or delete the data, but also change the configuration or even turn off the devices. In that specific case, a bug could leave the door open for hackers if it hadn’t been spotted on time.  

IoT banner

How to improve IoT security and avoid security issues? 

To prevent your IoT device from being attacked by hackers, there are three crucial recommendations to follow: 

Safety by simple design  

The first rule of IoT security is to keep a simple approach to device design. Don’t add extra, unnecessary functionalities, which won’t be used in the end. Every such functionality poses a risk of internal error, which creates a backdoor for hacking the system.  

Use a private network if possible  

If it’s possible, use an isolated, private network for your IoT device. For example, if a device uses a mobile network to transfer data, you may ask the operator if there’s a possibility to buy a private APN network.   

Secure data exchange with TLS cryptographic algorithms  

You should make sure that your whole data exchange network is secured with widely recognised industry-standard TLS cryptographic algorithms.  

Ensure regular firmware upgrade 

Last but not least: make sure your IoT device can get its firmware upgraded. If there are any errors found that could pose a risk to its security, it should be possible to upgrade the IoT device’s software in the quickest and most cost-efficient way.