Everyone who uses the internet is exposed to cyberthreats, which is unfortunate because we practically live online. We express ourselves on social media, communicate with family and colleagues via email and messaging apps, and even operate web-enabled gadgets also known as Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
IoT devices like smartphones and wearables are internet-connected devices that utilize embedded systems to collect and act on data. Businesses use various IoT devices because these automate processes and make operations more efficient. This technology has massively grown in popularity — IoT devices are even expected to outnumber conventional computers in the next few years.
While IoT has made us even more connected and more efficient, security remains a crucial talking point when it comes to IoT adoption. Here are some of the biggest threats to IoT users today.
#1. IoT device manufacturing vulnerabilities
Manufacturers are responsible for creating secure devices and yet, many remain vulnerable to cyberattacks due to insufficient security design. Some vulnerabilities involve the lack of a patching system, unsecured hardware, and weak passwords.
Ironically, security cameras are among the most vulnerable devices because many models have little to no built-in security mechanisms. Wearable devices such as smartwatches are also vulnerable to threats; according to HP, common security issues in these devices are “insufficient user authentication and authorization.” This may be attributed to the fact that manufacturers prioritize functionality and design over security. What’s more, they don’t follow a single standard to secure IoT devices, and many tend to neglect their products’ security.
#2. Difficulties updating security patches
While some manufacturers do factor in security, hackers move fast. They can find zero-day vulnerabilities to exploit in new gadgets.
One of the cardinal rules in cybersecurity is to update patches as soon as they become available. But it’s not as simple with IoT software, which is more difficult to upgrade compared to a desktop OS or a mobile OS. For instance, medical devices can be challenging to patch because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires time-consuming processes to change these devices’ software.
IoT devices such as those used in farms and factories are relatively easier to patch. But they need to be taken offline, which may affect production. Moreover, keeping these devices’ software patched may not always be done on time.
#3. Employees’ lack of security awareness
Cybersecurity awareness training teaches users to spot common threats such as phishing scams and to patch OS updates as soon as they become available. Unfortunately, not many users are properly trained to detect and prevent risks on IoT devices.
Again in the case of connected medical devices, one way that healthcare organizations can secure them is to inventory all devices, identify the different types being used, and have a working knowledge of how their systems work. This way, you can determine how these normally function and use that as a reference point to detect suspicious activity.
#4. Physical security
Criminals can also tamper with or steal IoT devices installed on office premises or any remote location where they may be left unattended. Hackers can also plug a USB drive into a device to install malware and steal data.
Smart home devices aren’t completely safe from this threat and can be hacked remotely. For example, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in Wi-Fi routers, which connect all smart devices to your network. To know if a router is secure, check its privacy policies and know how updates are enabled.
A botnet, or a network of infected computers that attack and overwhelm its target with traffic, can render large portions of the internet inoperable. This was the case in 2016’s Mirai botnet, which shut down big websites like CNN and Twitter, and crippled an entire country’s internet infrastructure. Unsecured IoT devices can cause this much devastation because of insufficient security updates.
Behind IoT attacks are people who understand and exploit humans' propensity to commit errors. And since most IoT devices aren’t designed with complex security mechanisms, they aren’t difficult to hack. So beware.
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