Digital transformation with Internet of Things devices offers organizations a way forward in the era of COVID-19. Optimizing this approach for the future will need to start with security.

Regardless of how long workers remain locked down in quasi-quarantine, remote work is the new wave of the future. Although many companies have remote work policies, few existed as primarily distributed workforces prior to March 2020. However, as with everything else, companies seeking to secure their remote workers need to move away from traditional security methodologies and look for technologies that enable digital transformation while mitigating the risks from cloud-first or cloud-only IT ecosystems.

The Internet of Things (IoT) presents organizations with a dual-edged sword. While it enables companies to monitor processes from a distance, the inability to secure IoT heightens security risks. The technologies themselves are inherently risky and lack a cohesive set of security protocols both during development and while being used. Assessing IoT risk and implementing security controls for the devices means understanding the gaps that relying solely on traditional methodologies and closing those gaps.

With that in mind, companies need to focus directly on solutions that secure IoT technologies which creates an entirely new attack surface as these devices move toward becoming cornerstones of a distributed workforce. Below are three important questions to get started.

Question 1: What are your organization’s IoT security risks?
IoT historically lacks a set of cohesive security guidelines, making the devices more difficult to protect. Their low levels of processing power and memory undermine security controls such as encryption. Simultaneously, in the early days of IoT, device manufacturing designers and developers rarely thought to insert security protections, leading to security issues such as requiring manual security updates, incorporating default passwords many users fail to change, and leaving open backdoors that malicious actors can use.

Question 2: How will your team secure IoT devices?
As organizations accelerate their cloud-first and cloud-only initiatives, they also need to work toward securing IoT, which has often been left out of security frameworks. In May 2020, the Internet of Things Security Foundation (IoTSF) released the second version of its IoT Security Compliance Framework (IoTSCF). According to the IoTSCF, organizations need to take a risk-based approach to IoT security by creating “compliance classes” and weighing the security objectives of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Some mandatory controls listed in the IoTSCF across all risk classes include ensuring the following:

  • The product’s processor system has an irrevocable hardware Secure Boot process.
  • The product has measures to prevent unauthenticated software and files being loaded on to it.
  • The software images can be digitally signed by an appropriate authority for remote software updates.
  • Software update packages include a digital signature, signing certificate, and signing certificate chain verified prior to updating the device.
  • Processes for reverting to last known good configurations when a device cannot verify the authenticity of the updates.
  • Factory issues or reset password is unique to each device in a product family.
  • Products require a password.
  • Ability to change factory default user login passwords when installed or commissioned.

Although many of these mandatory controls align with traditional security controls, such as generating unique user passwords, IoT certificate authentication means organizations need to look for providers that can meet these needs.

Question 3: What should I look for in an IoT authentication tool?
As with all cybersecurity issues, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to IoT authentication, primarily because IoT development itself lacks a standard approach. In short, for organizations leveraging IoT as part of their remote work plans, finding the right tool to manage IoT authentication requires research and review.

As part of that review, IT departments should incorporate:

  • Device authentication: For each connected device, the tool should be able to incorporate credentials, symmetric keys, certificates, or tokens.
  • User authentication: Incorporating multifactor authentication for users who access IoT devices can increase security.
  • System authentication: Connected devices and users need to be granted only the necessary access to complete mission functions.
  • Platform-generated certificates: Any IoT platform should generate and load a unique certificate to the device.
  • Device-generated keys: Devices should be able to generate asymmetric keys in response to the certificates loaded by the platform.

Successfully managing IoT access requires organizations to consistently verify the devices and ensure continued appropriate maintenance over them. While many organizations understand this in terms of human users, they often need to think more creatively about devices as “identities.”

Functionally, organizations need to enforce their own security risk tolerance rather than being led by device manufacturers. Leveraging digital certificates and public key infrastructure (PKI) as part of the device to system communication process can act as a way to incorporate encryption and authentication throughout the IoT deployment.

Moving Toward the Future
Increased IoT device deployments may be a way to maintain business continuity and grow a remote workforce across industries that traditionally rely on in-person, on-premises operations. However, organizations can leverage these devices only if they can maintain a robust cybersecurity posture. To move toward that future, organizations incorporating IoT as part of their digital transformation strategy must start by securing the devices purposefully and in alignment with the new IoTSCF to mitigate both data breach and compliance risks.

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Karen Walsh is a data-driven compliance expert focused on cybersecurity and privacy who believes that securing today’s data protects tomorrow’s users. Her work includes collaboration with security analysts and ghostwriting for C-suite level security leaders across a variety … View Full Bio

 

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