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Publications_digital digest_Cyber security concerns in the internet of things

Will We Ever be Able to Lock Down IoT security?

Wireless internet changed our existence on a micro level – down to our toasters. Literally. Internet has become an invisible thread woven into the fabric of our lives. From refrigerators that reorder groceries to thermostats that adjust to our preferences, these interconnected devices (IoT) – promise a world of convenience and automation. However, recent security breaches serve as a stark reminder of the hidden threat lurking beneath the surface: an expanding landscape of potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities.  

In April 2024, security researchers identified a vulnerability in popular smart TVs manufactured by LG Electronics. This flaw could have potentially allowed attackers to remotely execute malicious code on the TVs, granting them access to sensitive user data or even taking control of the device’s functionality. Imagine a hacker hijacking your smart TV, displaying unwanted content, or even stealing your login credentials for connected streaming services! This recent incident underscores the ongoing challenge of securing IoT devices and the potential consequences of inadequate security measures, even in devices from major manufacturers.  

As the number of internet-connected devices explodes, so too does the risk of malicious actors exploit weaknesses in their security. These devices, often poorly secured due to cost-cutting measures or rushed development cycles, become easy targets for a variety of attacks. Data breaches, unauthorized access, and even physical harm (in the case of connected medical devices) are all potential consequences of a compromised IoT ecosystem.  

Ethical hacking: a double-edged sword  

Fortunately, there are those who specialize in finding these vulnerabilities before the bad guys do: ethical hackers, also known as white-hat hackers. These security detectives, with the permission of the owner, simulate cyberattacks on systems and networks to identify weaknesses. They’re the good guys in the cybersecurity world, using their skills to uncover potential entry points before attackers exploit them.  

“Ethical hacking is a critical line of defence in the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape,” says Sarah Clarke, a seasoned red team member (security professionals who simulate attacks on an organisation’s systems to test their defences) with a deep understanding of IoT security vulnerabilities.

“By simulating real-world attacks, we can expose weaknesses in devices and networks before malicious actors can find and exploit them. It’s a proactive approach that helps manufacturers strengthen their defences and ultimately keeps users safe. In the world of cybersecurity, we’re constantly playing cat and mouse with attackers,” Sarah continues. “Ethical hacking allows us to stay one step ahead, identifying and patching vulnerabilities before they can be used to wreak havoc.”  

Several ethical hacking platforms have emerged as valuable tools in the fight for a secure IoT landscape. These platforms provide a collaborative environment where security researchers can identify and report vulnerabilities in IoT devices. Here are some of the key players:  

  • HackerOne: A leading bug bounty platform, HackerOne connects organisations with a global network of ethical hackers. They offer programs specifically focused on IoT security, incentivizing researchers to find and report vulnerabilities in devices. Manufacturers can leverage this expertise to address weaknesses and improve the overall security of their products.  
  • Bugcrowd: Similar to HackerOne, Bugcrowd facilitates collaboration between companies and ethical hackers. They offer a variety of features specifically tailored to IoT security challenges, including programs that allow researchers to test pre-production devices. This proactive approach allows manufacturers to identify and fix vulnerabilities before their devices even hit the market.  
  • Tenable Research: Dedicated to vulnerability research, Tenable Research offers a combination of bug bounty programs and coordinated disclosure initiatives. They play a vital role in encouraging responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities. This ensures that manufacturers are notified and can fix problems before they are made public, preventing widespread exploitation. 

Limitations of ethical hacking and additional challenges  

While ethical hacking plays a crucial role, it’s important to acknowledge its limitations. Ethical hacking is primarily a reactive approach – it identifies existing vulnerabilities. There’s always the possibility that undiscovered vulnerabilities remain. Additionally, the vast and ever-growing number of IoT device manufacturers, each with varying security practices, makes it challenging to achieve a unified standard for security across the entire IoT landscape. Furthermore, the lack of standardized security protocols for IoT devices creates additional hurdles in securing these devices effectively.  

Security by Design: building a secure future  

True security lies in building it in from the ground up – a concept known as “Security by Design.” This proactive approach moves beyond reactive patching and equips devices with inherent resilience against cyber threats.  Here’s how Security by Design is revolutionizing the landscape of IoT security:  

  • Embedded secure coding: Imagine building your house with strong, reinforced materials. Secure coding practices function similarly. Developers are equipped with specialized tools and training to write code that is inherently resistant to common exploits. This includes utilizing established libraries, avoiding coding pitfalls, and employing static code analysis tools to identify potential issues early in development.
  • Hardware-based security features: Just like a deadbolt on your door, hardware-based security features add an extra layer of protection for your IoT devices. Examples include Secure Boot (ensuring the device only boots with authorized software) and Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) that securely store cryptographic keys. These features make it significantly harder for attackers to tamper with the device or steal sensitive data.   
  • Threat modeling and proactive risk management: Security by Design isn’t reactive – it’s about anticipating threats. Threat modeling involves analysing potential attack scenarios and identifying weaknesses attackers might exploit. By considering these threats early in the design process, manufacturers can build safeguards directly into their devices, mitigating the potential impact of future attacks. 

Leading the charge: security by design in action  

Security by Design isn’t just a theoretical concept. Major tech giants and platforms are actively implementing it:  

Microsoft Azure Sphere: This cloud service provides a secure foundation for building intelligent IoT devices. It offers hardware security features, a secure operating system, and a development environment that enforces security best practices.  

Arm TrustZone: This technology integrates a secure world within a processor, isolating critical security functions from the main operating system. This compartmentalization makes it extremely difficult for attackers to gain access to sensitive information.  

Bosch Shield: This comprehensive security framework from Bosch offers a holistic approach to securing connected devices. It encompasses secure coding practices, hardware-based security features, and secure cloud connectivity.  

“Security by Design isn’t just a fancy slogan,” emphasizes Sarah Clarke. “It’s a fundamental shift in how we approach the development of IoT devices. By prioritizing security from the outset, we can build products that are inherently more resilient to attacks and provide long-term peace of mind for users.”  

Distilled  

The vast potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) can only be fully realized in a secure environment. By combining innovative solutions like ethical hacking platforms with secure design principles, fostering collaboration between manufacturers, security researchers, and users, we can build a future where the interconnected world of the IoT enhances our lives without compromising our safety. Only through this collective effort can we unlock the true potential of a secure and prosperous IoT landscape.  

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Meera Nair

Drawing from her diverse experience in journalism, media marketing, and digital advertising, Meera is proficient in crafting engaging tech narratives. As a trusted voice in the tech landscape and a published author, she shares insightful perspectives on the latest IT trends and workplace dynamics in Digital Digest.
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