The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized connectivity and how we interact with machines. It opened up avenues for human and machine interaction and also for intra-machine communication. The possibilities that it opens up are why it is being adopted throughout the industry and beyond it. It brought a new perspective to the idea of industrial automation, and it is taking over the energy sector for creating smarter systems, and the list goes on.

IoT applications are now also becoming a part of our homes. We have inter-connected devices that help us keep track of, let’s say, the air conditioning, even when we are at the office. Hence, in an attempt to make the world smarter around us, IoT is playing an important role. However, with an increase in IoT applications, cybersecurity threats are also on the rise. We will discuss what makes IoT vulnerable and how can these cybersecurity threats be dealt with.

What Is IoT and How Does It Work?

Before we go into the details about the cybersecurity threats, we must understand what IoT is and how it works. Internet of Things gets its name from the idea of the internet—a hub where all the digital data is connected through different networks and unique addresses. The concept of the internet is imposed on physical world applications in order to achieve a more efficient and accessible system.

Internet of Things is a concept where every device connected to the network can communicate with each other. There may be different roles and protocols of communication for each device, but the end result is dependent on this communication. An IoT system is generally divided into four stages. The process begins with data collection. Here sensors or other devices are employed to gather data. The second stage is connectivity and communication. Here, the goal is to provide a communication channel or network connectivity such that the data can be transferred from one device to another. From wired transmission to Bluetooth to Wi-Fi, all kinds of different channels can be used. The next stage is data processing. This means analyzing data and sending out any particular commands that need to be sent to a particular device, and the network channels will be used to do so. This processing can take place on a cloud, another system, or a dedicated processor. And finally, the last stage is to make the whole process accessible to the user through the user interface. This means that you can see what data was collected and what actions were taken, and in most cases, you also get the authority to command the system.

These four stages represent four elements in an IoT system. These elements are data input devices, communication networks, processors, and data output devices. A large variety of data input devices can be used. There is no limitation. With ADC and DAC technologies, you can make a sensor out of almost any device. Simultaneously, the output devices are usually those that can send out an analog signal for you to easily sense. Often output devices are dedicated output devices, but mostly in mobile networks, you would want a device that gives you output and also lets you process data or send data. Cellphones, laptops, or other devices that can be connected easily on a network are then utilized. The most important thing in the whole system is connectivity. Without connectivity, there is no Internet of Things. Usually, dedicated servers are created, and unique IP addresses are assigned to every device on the network, which makes communication easier. Although there are many channels of connectivity, Wi-Fi, LAN, WAN, Ethernet, and Bluetooth are a few common modes of communication.

An IoT system helps us act on changing information or keeping track of vitals. An example would be your car’s air conditioning is automatically turned on as soon as the temperature increases. A temperature sensor will continuously gather the data, and a processor would be analyzing this data. As soon as it reaches a certain threshold, either you will be prompted to turn on the air conditioning, or your system will automatically turn it on. Moreover, depending on your system’s complexity, it can also provide you with analytics about temperature changes. Hence, these systems can be upgraded and made to best fit our requirements.

Understanding Vulnerabilities

Now that we know how an IoT system works, we can also better understand how it is getting more and more attention in the industrial sector. The previous example was a rather basic one, but from automating office spaces to automating large industrial operations, IoT is taking over rapidly. This means that there will be a lot at stake if there are any vulnerabilities in the IoT system.

First of all, there is always a threat of security breaches in an industrial setting or in an enterprise. From competitors to pranksters, there is a large variety of potential threats. What makes IoT more prone to be attacked is its requirement of data. IoT systems thrive on data; more data means better systems. However, this very trait of collecting data makes it a good target. If an IoT system was to be breached, there is no saying what data might get compromised.

Moreover, IoT system is developed using data-collecting devices, and cameras can be one example. Without input devices, there is no data to process. However, if these devices were to be breached and manipulated, they can, by extension, become a spying device for your enterprise. Not only that, but getting control over your input devices means that the data can be altered, and your system can be tricked into malfunctioning.

Channels of communication also play an equally important role. They are the entry point for cybercriminals. While it may be hard to breach the facility physically, cybercriminals can work their way through these communication channels if they are not secured enough. DDOS attacks and ransomware are some of the most common network attacks.

All these vulnerable points are present in all IoT systems. However, industries and businesses are more likely to be affected since they are the bigger target with larger stakes at play.

Securing Your System

Even though it may sound a little scary and you may get a little skeptical of IoT systems, you can secure your networks by staying on top of these cybersecurity threats. Most of these threats become a problem because of our lack of vigilance about the system. However, steps can be taken to ensure the safety of your IoT network.

The first step is to incorporate a reliable cybersecurity framework into your system. NIST provides a detailed guideline on creating a framework to secure your system from cybersecurity threats. It is important that you are at the forefront at all times.

The second step is to ensure network security. It is important that you employ multi-layered protocols for cybersecurity, including different anti-malware, anti-ransomware, and antivirus software. You should also enhance your firewalls and have a strong firewall in place. Furthermore, secure and protected routers are crucial. If you are using Wi-Fi connectivity, a router breach can bring your whole operation down.

Moreover, to ensure any breach is invalidated, you can employ encrypted data communication. End-to-end encryption for all your devices can decrease the chances of the data being compromised. Even if a breach takes place, you have a higher probability that breached data would be useless for the criminals.

You must also introduce strict authentication protocols in different control devices that are employed in your system. Whenever a device is connected to a system, it must authenticate itself.

Lastly, you must have all your data mapped. Everything that goes into the IoT system should have a track record and should be actively audited. From data to any credential that logs in to the system and from where they log in, the more data you gather, the easier it is for you to take countermeasures against a breach.