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IoT Security: How to Make the Internet of Things Safer

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Mar 4, 2024
IoT security professionals having a meeting in a conference room.

IoT Security: How to Make the Internet of Things Safer

It is not uncommon for a tech device to connect to the internet. From smartwatches and smartphones to video game consoles and thermostats, devices have the capacity to link up online and either transmit or receive data. This ever-evolving group of objects and devices makes up a greater structure known as the Internet of Things (IoT) — and it’s a structure that’s revolutionizing our daily lives.

While the IoT has helped spawn devices that make our lives easier, it carries a potential downside. Each device offers new pathways for cybercriminals to exploit and mine private data. In business, developing an effective cybersecurity plan that incorporates IoT protection is critical for success. After all, an information breach can not only damage a company’s reputation, it can significantly impact its bottom line.

According to IBM’s report The Cost of a Data Breach 2023, the average cost of a data breach in 2023 worldwide was $4.45 million. However, cybercriminals don’t just go after industry heavyweights. Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report noted that very small businesses — companies employing 10 people or fewer — were the victim of many successful cyber attacks.

As the IoT becomes a more common tool for businesses great and small, developing a solid IoT security plan is increasingly important. Before this can happen, though, organizations must have a comprehensive understanding of what the IoT is, the challenges behind keeping it secure, and the benefits of thwarting potential attacks.

What Is the IoT?

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a term referring to the network of objects equipped with technologies capable of exchanging data with other objects via the internet. These objects, or “things” can perform this task because they are built with technologies such as software and sensors designed to collect, transmit, and receive data.

The IoT works by devices creating their own ecosystem built around a centralized hub. This hub receives and analyzes data sent from a device, and then transmits post-analysis information to another device or user. In some cases, certain devices in the ecosystem can transmit information to an edge device. These tools run hardware containing enough computer-based resources to either execute functions locally or submit only the information that’s needed for the function to the hub.

Some of the IoT’s functionality requires human intervention. People may need to set up devices to properly interact with their ecosystems, or they may need to access whatever data is derived from the devices. Otherwise, IoT devices can function autonomously.

A functioning IoT ecosystem constitutes various advances and innovations stemming from modern technology, which can ultimately allow the “thing” to properly function or provide key information. These innovations include:

  • Localized Computing: Low-power, cost-effective computing technology like affordable sensors or edge devices make IoT capabilities more affordable to integrate within a business environment.

  • The Cloud: Cloud computing, where information can be shared between multiple devices via digital connectivity, allows for convenient access to data from different places.

  • Machine Learning: Some tech-driven devices can glean insight from analyzed data and make predictive-driven actions based on their findings.

  • Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI): Personal assistant devices like Siri and Alexa use natural-language processing (NLP) made possible through neural network innovations to talk to and take commands from users.

There is also a branch of the IoT called the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT. This branch refers to any IoT tech applied to industrial settings. The IIoT can typically be used to improve the efficiency of large industrial tasks, such as logistics, digital supply chains, and smart power grids.

IoT Examples

The IoT can be part of a wide range of devices, or “things,” of various sophistication. In a smaller, home-based setting, a smart thermostat uses software to automatically adjust the temperature at certain times of the day to match the owner’s preference. Owners may also be able to customize these adjustments before they arrive home through a phone app, which uses the internet to relay this new information to the device.

On a much larger scale, self-driving cars use the IoT to communicate with other vehicles and understand their surroundings. These vehicles use motion sensors, onboard computers, and cameras equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) to make the same kind of quick-thinking decisions drivers make when they’re on the road.

In some cases, the “thing” within an IoT ecosystem can be a living creature. A biotech transponder injected in a cow can provide farmers with tracking data, or a heart monitor implant placed inside a human can provide vital health data for a physician.

The Impact of the IoT

The IoT functions as a bridge of sorts between physical and digital interaction. Automated devices that can operate within their own connected ecosystem can not only co-exist with a person’s daily life but can also help increase productivity. Devices like smartphones, virtual assistants, wearable tech devices, and connected kitchen appliances can make our lives easier, give us data we can use to improve our daily routines or provide us with convenient means of gathering important information.

In business, IoT and IIoT applications provide game-changing efficiency to a wide range of business strategies. The IoT’s connection to the cloud, coupled with its use of machine learning and AI, expands opportunities for organizations to gather data and share analyzed results with key team members.

This can lead to more effective strategies that reach targeted audiences with greater accuracy. The IIoT’s applications, such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and machine learning, improve automation capabilities in ways that streamline logistics and supply chains. This can help a business get its products to market in a significantly smoother fashion.

The benefits of IoT use in business are numerous. Some of the potential advantages a company may enjoy can include:

  • Improved business management

  • Boosted operational efficiency

  • Elevated productivity

  • Creation of new revenue streams

Because of these benefits, integrating the IoT into an organization’s business model has become increasingly valuable over time. A business needs to assemble an IT team that’s adept at not only implementing and managing IoT applications but also adapting existing IoT strategies to keep pace with new technologies and tech-driven applications as the IoT evolves.

A large part of this strategy involves IoT cybersecurity. An IoT ecosystem can include a broad range of devices able to collect data, and this makes them prime potential targets for cybercriminals. Therefore, businesses should have a concrete IoT security plan in place as they start to establish their own IoT ecosystems.

Risks of IoT Security

There are many devices with online capabilities within an IoT ecosystem. All it takes is one vulnerability within this network for cybercriminals to exploit and breach the system. This makes building and maintaining a security strategy for an IoT system crucial. Doing so can be a complex process.

The main reason for this is that IoT security can be substantially different from traditional cybersecurity. The IoT typically has more moving parts that, while they work together, also function as individual devices. These devices typically have their own security elements that exist outside of an intentional, ecosystem-driven network. This leaves them uniquely vulnerable in a way that’s frequently unseen by a system bound together by an internal network.

Additionally, the IoT’s network commonly expands beyond the devices typically associated with cybersecurity. An IoT ecosystem can consist of servers, sensors, software, and devices in addition to data. Exploiting these vulnerabilities can cause disruptions to large-scale processes that can negatively impact specific business elements, such as supply chain efficiency.

The design of the devices found within an IoT ecosystem also creates inherent risks that must be addressed. The devices themselves typically don’t possess their own internal security system. They also don’t usually have encryption guardrails to protect data as it’s transferred. Moreover, their transmittals typically fly under the radar of typical cybersecurity systems.

These elements create a litany of potential weaknesses that cybercriminals look for when they attack. Some of the more common weaknesses include the following.

Weak Authorization and Authentication Processes

IoT devices typically use easy-to-decipher default passwords and seldom require strong authentication practices. This ease of access can potentially make it easy for cybercriminals to break into systems. It can also allow them to connect rogue, undetected IoT devices to the network to initiate an attack or even intercept data as it transmits.

No Encryption

Most IoT devices transmit unencrypted information during their processes. This leaves their data susceptible to various forms of data theft as well as to other serious forms of attack, like ransomware attacks.

Software and Firmware Weakness

Typical IoT devices are relatively inexpensive. They’re also the product of short development cycles. These elements usually come at the expense of testing the security of firmware — that is, the programming that enables hardware to function. Additionally, the software and web-based apps associated with IoT devices may also contain vulnerable avenues for exploitation.

Lack of Communication Protocol and Channel Security

Because IoT devices can often link up to other devices within the ecosystem, a successful attack on one device can quickly fan out to other devices on the network. Unfortunately, the methods these devices use to communicate are often left unsecured. This could potentially allow cybercriminals to intercept these communications with relative ease.

Insufficient Patches and Updates

A lot of IoT devices are not designed to take on routine security updates. This leaves them more vulnerable to attacks, as cybercriminals don’t have to necessarily worry about a device’s security practices changing. These common weaknesses contain a common thread: While the IoT can offer game-changing elements to a business, the lack of built-in security concepts places them at a disadvantage in cyber attack environments when left alone.

IoT security, therefore, isn’t just focused on building secure networks. It must include strategies that overcome the risks that are built into IoT devices. It also has to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise the efficiency or the effectiveness of the IoT ecosystem.

Applying IoT security is an increasingly essential task because IoT-driven technologies are increasingly ubiquitous. According to online data specialists Statista, $805 billion was projected to be spent on IoT technology globally in 2023. The technology isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the need for those who can devise effective IoT security strategies.

Benefits of a Sound IoT Security Strategy

Fortunately, developing a strong IoT security strategy can be beneficial in ways that are both immediate and long-term. Such strategies keep sensitive information safe and secure. For various industries, this can mean their client’s information remains out of reach of cybercriminals. This primary benefit can hold different ramifications based on the industry associated with the devices. For instance, secured IoT systems can protect a customer’s credit card information in the retail sector. In health care, this can keep a patient’s sensitive health information confidential.

A secure IoT system can also protect a company’s bottom line. A data breach can be expensive to resolve, and this unexpected expense could cause substantial disruption to a company’s long-term financial strategic plans. The cost of a data breach can go beyond immediate cash flow; a successful cyber attack could damage a company’s reputation, which could make it difficult for a business to reach new customers and retain new clients.

IoT Cybersecurity Solutions

The IoT’s security shortcomings can look intimidating. However, there are several solutions professionals can implement to overcome these challenges, protect IoT-driven information, and keep a company’s economic goals on target.

Proactive Integration

Because the IoT is known to have unique vulnerabilities, professionals need to make sure they build their IoT strategy around both security and protection. This starts with enabling security on all devices, and continues via monitoring and checking for the development of system vulnerabilities, addressing them as they manifest.

Build Encryption Systems

Since IoT devices usually aren’t designed to encrypt their transmitted data, it’s up to the IT professional to develop and implement their own encryption system. This can be accomplished by implementing public key infrastructure (PKI) authentication strategies via digital certificates. This kind of system serves as the security foundation for e-commerce platforms.

Create a Secure Network

An IoT network contains physical components (the “things”) and digital components (the internet). Both deserve equal focus when it comes to IoT security. There are plenty of applications professionals can use to make sure both components are monitored and protected. These can include firewalls, using intrusion detection systems, patching systems, and blocking unauthorized IP addresses.

Develop API Security

Application programming interface, or API security, ensures transmitted data from an IoT device goes where it’s supposed to go. This prevents data from being intercepted by unauthorized devices set up by cybercriminals to steal data.

Implement Zero-Trust Models

A zero-trust security model demands every user be verified before gaining access, regardless of who the user is. This model applies to people inside the company’s network as well as those outside of its network.

Carry Out Constant Training

The IoT continues to evolve rapidly, which means it’s crucial to keep abreast with new IoT tech, including its vulnerabilities. Consistent, periodic training will help IT leaders and their teams keep abreast of these vulnerabilities. It will also keep them in the loop regarding any new techniques cybercriminals may be using to gain the upper hand.

The Role of Education in IoT Security

While the IoT is constantly evolving, the principles that drive effective IoT security largely remain constant. This foundation involves having a firm grasp of key IoT principles, and it also necessitates a proactive approach that keeps IT professionals one step ahead of would-be cybercriminals.

Education plays a key role in curating both of these elements. An advanced degree, such as a Master’s in Cyber Security, typically covers concepts and theories professionals may encounter within and without IoT security measures, such as technical security elements like cryptography or the relationship between cybersecurity and AI. The degree curriculum may also include subjects that can provide a more holistic viewpoint of online security, such as potential legal and ethical concerns.

Along the way, such degree programs usually cultivate skills considered essential for cybersecurity, such as communication and leadership competencies. Ultimately, the combination of knowledge and skills can provide the backbone that supports a cybersecurity career, regardless of what cybersecurity may look like in the future.

Prepare For the Future

The IoT is a paradigm-shifting technology. Without the proper IoT security strategy in place, it can also be a vulnerable technology for organizations. Those ready to step in and develop strong security plans for IoT ecosystems can mitigate these vulnerabilities, which can make it easier for companies to meet their growth and stability goals.

The University of Tulsa’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program can prepare you to protect a company’s important IoT-driven assets. The online format allows you to further deepen the acumen to become a trusted leader in an increasingly important field, all in a way that fits your busy schedule.

Learn how we can help you get ready for success.

Recommended Readings

Cybersecurity Ethics: Why It’s Important

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?

The Importance of Cybersecurity Leadership


Fortinet, What Is Firmware? Types and Examples

Fortinet, What Is IoT Security? Challenges and Requirements

IBM, Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023

Oracle, What is IoT?

Packt, Cybersecurity Versus IoT Security

RedHat, “What is IoT Edge Computing?”

Statista, Prognosis of Worldwide Spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) From 2018 to 2023

TechTarget, “IoT Security (Internet of Things Security)”

TechTarget, “Top 12 IoT Applications and Examples in Business”

Trend Micro, IoT Security

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Securing the Internet of Things

Verizon, Data Breach Investigations Report

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