12 Common Concerns of the Permeable IoT Attack Surface

By Dotan Nahum, Head of Developer-First Security at Check Point Software Technologies [ Join Cybersecurity Insiders ]
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Woven into the fabric of everyday life, the Internet of Things (IoT) is ever-expanding, from smart home devices to industrial sensors. But an ecosystem on the edge of innovation comes hand-in-hand with a growing attack surface, creating a permeable landscape vulnerable to threats like cross-site scripting (XSS) and data breaches.

IoT devices are as diverse and ubiquitous as smart home appliances (think thermostats, lighting systems, and refrigerators), wearable health monitors, connected cars, smart meters, and industrial control systems. The most important takeaway is that there are billions of IoT devices globally, putting security concerns on an unprecedented scale.

As if the breadth of the IoT environment wasn’t enough, IT professionals must stay on high alert for these ten common security threats.

1. Limited Support and Updates

Software updates are few and far between once IoT devices are deployed, leaving exposure to vulnerabilities down to the manufacturer’s discretion. After the End-of-Life (EOL) hits, updates and patches come to an abrupt halt – but usage continues.

2. Lack of Standardization

The IoT landscape includes a diverse array of devices produced by numerous manufacturers, each designed for different environments with a wide range of design standards, protocols, and security practices. The lack of standardization and uniform security measures means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to securing IoT devices, creating inconsistencies and exposing the attack surface.

3. Data Privacy Concerns

The rapid development of IoT technology often outpaces the formulation of relevant privacy regulations like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. Service providers and manufacturers struggle to keep up, and the discovery and protection of sensitive data fall by the wayside. Worse, IoT devices collect a staggering volume of data, adding scalability concerns into the mix.

4. Network Security Risks

Any compromise in an IoT device can pose a risk to the entire network, and the necessary security measures are much more complex than securing homogeneous environments. For example, cybercriminals use IoT devices as entry points to launch broader attacks, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS).

5. Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

The IoT supply chain is often opaque, and ensuring the security of components that may come from different sources is challenging. Just one insecure component can cripple the security of the entire device and make it difficult to guarantee the security of the final product.

6. Legacy Integrations

In many cases, IoT devices are integrated into existing systems that may be running on older, legacy technology or rely on third-party components no longer supported or updated by their original creators.

7. Physical Security Risks

Given that many IoT devices interact with the physical world (e.g., smart locks), a security breach could have direct physical consequences – unlocking doors or controlling industrial machinery. This unique problem raises the stakes significantly compared to traditional cyber threats, making the devices vulnerable to tampering, especially when they rely on sensors that can be manipulated or spoofed.

8. Consumer Awareness and Education

A large number of IoT devices are intended for consumer use, but end-users need to be fully aware of the complexities of IoT devices and their security implications. Users may believe that products like smart thermostats are seemingly harmless and inherently secure. Where there’s often a lack of awareness or concern about security issues, users ignore issues like poor password hygiene and security settings.

9. nability to Prioritize Threats

The diverse nature and sheer volume of IoT devices add complexity to threat assessments, making IT professionals feel in limbo. As the threats keep coming, prioritizing and contextualizing threats to avoid vulnerability overload is the challenge. Thorough risk assessments and comprehensive monitoring tools make this process easier.

10. Balancing Performance and Security 

Often, IoT devices are designed with limited processing power, memory, and battery life to keep costs and energy usage down. Implementing robust security measures may require additional computational resources, which can strain these limited resources, impacting the device’s performance and functionality. Hence, many IoT devices are designed with convenience and functionality in mind, leaving security as an afterthought.

11. Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

As with any software, unknown flaws exist and can be exploited before patches are available – a prevalent issue considering the previously mentioned IoT patching and update issues. Zero-day vulnerabilities provide opportunities for rapid exploitation of devices, and the attack can quickly spread across a network.

12. Insecure Communication Protocols

Without secure communication protocols, data sent from IoT devices can be altered or tampered with during transmission. IoT devices, especially everyday and household items, lack strong encryption, making communications easily readable by anyone who can access the data stream.

Moving Forward with a DevSecOps Approach

A DevSecOps approach can transform security into a foundational aspect of the development process rather than a simple afterthought. You can embed security into every stage of the development and operational lifecycle, including the design and planning phases, by automating processes like security testing, continuous monitoring, patch management, and more. Automated tools are the future of IoT security as its adoption grows at staggering rates, ensuring that security considerations are continuous and that vulnerabilities never slip through the cracks.

Dotan Nahum is the Head of Developer-First Security at Check Point Software Technologies. Dotan was the co-founder and CEO at Spectralops, which was acquired by Check Point Software, and now is the Head of Developer-First Security. Dotan is an experienced hands-on technological guru & code ninja. Major open-source contributor. High expertise with React, Node.js, Go, React Native, distributed systems and infrastructure (Hadoop, Spark, Docker, AWS, etc.)

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