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While IoT applications offer many benefits, they also come with increased security risks. Each device added to the network represents a potentially vulnerable endpoint. According to research from IDC, the number of IoT devices will grow to beyond 41 million by 2025. Organizations can’t afford to ignore this. By the time risks of compromise arise, it’s often too late to manage them. However, you can take steps to proactively secure IoT deployments.

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Why Are IoT Devices So Challenging to Secure?

IoT devices must send and receive information from the internet in real-time to serve their purpose. While these devices have become common, security is often still lacking. Instead of using a security strategy to build security into the deployment from the ground up, it’s all too frequently tacked on as an afterthought, leaving sensitive data or intellectual property exposed.

Since these devices often have a long lifespan, like smart meters that potentially operate in the field for a decade or more, there is a continuous need to update the software they run to keep them secure. Organizations need to find a way to secure the data on the device and keep information private from the moment it’s created and throughout the entire time that it’s stored.

Maintaining end-to-end device and data security, however, is no easy feat. Enterprises must understand the potential pitfalls of IoT device security to combat risks. Here are five essential steps to secure IoT devices that enterprises should be aware of and strive to address.

1. Ensure Data Encryption

Data encryption is an essential component of cybersecurity protocol. However, in the world of IoT, where software and hardware often originate from an array of vendors and manufacturers, it is sometimes overlooked. While manufacturers have become aware of their role in security, enterprise IT teams must be vigilant.

Therefore, they must ensure all data is encrypted in both directions from every endpoint using standard encryption methods. More endpoints mean more entry points for bad actors. Any internet-connected device presents an exploitable attack surface. When organizations implement encryption correctly, information is unreadable to those that don’t have access, and data can travel from the sender to the recipient without compromise.

2. Minimize Physical Security Threats to Field Devices

Enterprises must use robust encryption keys and update them frequently to minimize vulnerabilities. IoT devices come with increased risks, in large part because they can take many different forms. Devices are often in the field, which exposes them to far more physical security threats than servers in a locked building. Organizations need to be cautious when providing access to these devices.

Exercising this caution means determining which staff members have access, how they gain access and how you will revoke these permissions if the need arises. What security measures will you have in place where these devices are located to ensure that only those that are authorized gain access? These considerations play a critical role in ensuring that the physical devices themselves aren’t compromised or stolen.

Organizations also must find ways to secure the data on the device. They must identify the best ways to store security keys based on the device and its risk factors. How this takes shape may vary. Those risk factors may depend on what data or personal information is stored. Saving keys on a device’s memory may leave information vulnerable.

The most secure option by far is to store them within the chip. Beyond that, it’s critical to update keys and passwords regularly. While many organizations know updating keys and passwords is a good idea, many don’t prioritize this action until a data breach occurs.

Edge computing provides a safe solution for managing IoT data traffic, provided there are authentication systems in place and the devices are secure. It creates a processing perimeter at the network’s edge for real-time logic and analysis before exchanging data with core systems.

Edge computing does present new vulnerabilities stemming from issues that bring additional risks, such as not changing or being unable to change default passwords, unsecured internet resources, physical tampering and operators unfamiliar with the evolving IoT cybersecurity landscape. However, there are best practices that solve these challenges, including end-to-end encryption, long-term plans for edge computing deployment, securing devices with strong passwords, encryption keys and even biometric authentication systems.

3. Secure End-to-End Communications

Enterprise IoT systems have many connected components. There are usually several different endpoints that need to be secured. Multiple devices all connect to a centralized network. The entire system of communication includes the device itself, the network and the cloud. No matter how many devices enterprises deploy, data communications occur across larger areas with endpoints at higher risk than when companies stored and processed data on-premises.

There are more ways for those that are outside of your organization to gain access. From device to data transportation to platform communications, ensuring secure communications should be a priority. The most effective way to guarantee data security is by choosing a single provider for all hardware, edge devices and management software. Having one provider reduces potential security risks and creates a sealed environment with fewer entry doors for cybercriminals.

4. Ensure Devices Remain Accessible after Deployment

The point of an IoT deployment is to gather data from dispersed devices. However, some organizations neglect to consider the many ways they will need to access those devices to keep the network running smoothly. Fewer than 20% of respondents from a Ponemon Institute and Shared Assessments study could identify most of their organization’s IoT devices. Further, 56% report not keeping an inventory of IoT devices.

This study highlights a serious issue because firmware and hardware must be updated with the latest security patches and added features to remain optimally secure. Over time, devices may require battery replacements, repairs, or other maintenance. If you take the time to consider how you’ll manage these tasks before deployment, you can minimize security risks.

Sending personnel to make repairs may be necessary for some situations, but most device maintenance can be handled remotely — if the groundwork exists. Enterprises should look for device management tools that provide remote updates, preventive maintenance and monitoring capabilities. These features will yield tremendous savings in both costs and time.

5. Security by Design

Many enterprises are rightly concerned about IoT security. When companies create an IoT project and attempt to add protection to it, the process becomes complicated. Moreover, enterprise leaders too often fail to take the necessary steps to protect the devices. The best path to robust IoT security is to start by designing it into your deployment. Taking these extra steps pays off in the long term. Learn more about security in IoT device manufacturing.

Bottom Line: How to Secure Enterprise IoT Deployments

Security is not a static decision — it should be an ongoing priority. Enterprises must start strong with a sealed and secure network, but they also need to keep device firmware and software up-to-date and stay abreast of emerging cyber threats. Proactively dealing with these risks is the only way to ensure security.

To do this well, join forces with a trusted IoT solutions partner that can simplify the entire process and provide the expertise you need to be successful. Telit OneEdge™ is an innovative, module-enabled embedded software system with easy-to-use device management tools that take you from the First Mile of IoT™ to the last. To learn more, request our Telit OneEdge evaluation kit today.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on 17 January 2020 and has since been updated.