What the Internet of Things means for security

While the IoT promises exciting new services and capabilities for consumers and businesses, its rise comes with significant security implications

By Tim Ferguson

Tue 28 Nov 2017 @ 17:00

The Internet of Things is here. The billions of devices already connected to the internet are providing a range of new services to consumers and businesses -- and this is only the start.

Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected 'things' will be in use by the end of 2017, a 31 per cent increase on 2016; it expects that number will hit 20.4 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, telecoms giant Ericsson puts the figure at 29 billion by 2022, while analysts IDC predict worldwide IoT spending will approach $1.4 trillion in 2021.

Whatever figure you choose, we can soon expect a staggering volume of connected devices. And this is without the further growth of tablets and smartphones also using internet-enabled services.

Gartner suggests consumer services will account for two-thirds of all IoT applications in 2017. These include smart homes, where -- for example -- fridges automatically order replacement items and appliances can be controlled via a mobile app.

In transport, vehicles are accessing the internet to provide infotainment, enable safety features and perform autonomous driving. Healthcare also stands to benefit from IoT technology, with wearable devices used to monitor everything from fitness activity to health indicators such as heart rate or insulin levels.

Elsewhere, smart factories are being created as production lines are equipped with sensors, with the data generated used to predict when components may fail. This predictive maintenance means parts can be replaced before things go wrong, drastically reducing downtime.

These are just a few of the use cases that the IoT enables. It's clearly an area of technology that is only going to grow and grow. The internet isn't just a platform for content and services now -- it's becoming more linked to the physical world. This doesn't come without its risks, particularly around cybersecurity.

Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and determined as they identify new ways to compromise corporate networks. Their cause is being helped by the fact that the number of routes into networks has increased, thanks to the widespread use of cloud computing and mobile devices. The majority of organisations have suffered a compromise or breach as a result.

But the Internet of Things introduces a whole new dimension, exponentially increasing the number of channels into corporate networks and dramatically broadening the 'attack surface' that cyber criminals can target and breach.

Clearly, organisations need to take steps to secure the growing number of routes into their corporate networks, but it's only a matter of time before their perimeter defences are compromised.

As a result, network monitoring and threat detection become even more critical. They are crucial for flagging activity within the network that suggests a threat is active, and for tackling that threat before it causes serious damage.

Once again, threats need to be stopped from progressing along the cyber attack lifecycle, or 'kill chain', as each stage represents a greater chance of a compromise becoming a serious breach.

Security incident and event management (SIEM) tools need to quickly determine whether or not activity represents a security threat and to prioritise activity for further investigation using machine data intelligence.

The Internet of Things promises much for consumers and businesses. It has the potential to revolutionise the way people live their lives and how businesses operate.

But in order for these benefits to be fully realised, it's crucial that organisations pay close attention to the devices being introduced and how they interact with the internet and their networks, if they are to avoid a rush of damaging cyber attacks.

More importantly, they need to step up their efforts to monitor their networks and detect threats so they can quickly respond. As the Internet of Things continues to advance, organisations must protect their networks from within -- securing their perimeter is no longer enough.