Innovations & Trends

An In-Depth Guide to IoT Security

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects network-enabled devices and objects to the Internet allowing the collection and exchange of data. As with any technology handling sensitive information, employing adequate security measures is crucial to reduce risk. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore common IoT security threats and best practices organizations should adopt to protect their IoT solutions.

What is IoT Security?

IoT security refers to safeguarding Internet of Things devices, platforms, and architectures against unauthorized access and cyber threats. This encompasses securing endpoint sensors, network transmission, data payloads, cloud/edge computing resources, analytics, and client dashboards/apps accessing the system.

Since IoT involves interactions between hardware, software, and the physical environment, threats manifest across digital and physical realms. A compromised IoT deployment could enable cybercriminals to steal data or manipulate connected equipment. Poor IoT security hygiene also increases privacy risks.

That’s why a holistic, multi-layered approach combining policies, processes, and technologies is required to manage security, privacy, and safety while maintaining trust across IoT solutions spanning IT and OT infrastructure.

Primary Goals of An IoT Security Program

The core objectives an IoT security strategy aims to achieve include:

  • Preventing unauthorized access to devices, networks, and data
  • Ensuring the integrity of data flowing between sensors, gateways, and cloud
  • Maintaining confidentiality of collected device telemetry and derived analytics
  • Confirming availability of critical monitoring/control functions
  • Delivering audit visibility across users, systems, and events
  • Safeguarding public safety from compromised life-critical equipment
  • Embedding security early in product design philosophy
  • Complying with industry-specific regulatory policies

Accomplishing these goals requires applying security at each layer of the stack from endpoint hardware up through cloud services and client apps.

Common IoT Security Threats and Vulnerabilities

Due to the scale and complexity of large IoT deployments, weaknesses get introduced allowing cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities including:

Security Breach

Endpoint Devices

  • Fraudulent firmware allows malware injection
  • Unpatched operating systems and software libraries
  • Hardcoded/Crackable device passwords
  • Promiscuous debug/test ports left open
  • Lack of encryption on-device storage
  • GPS spoofing tricks devices of location

Networking Protocols

  • Plaintext credentials sent over networks
  • Unencrypted data payloads during transmission
  • VPN/VLAN misconfigurations expose private networks
  • DNS/DHCP manipulation undermines IP addresses
  • SSL stripping/Management of encrypted sessions
  • Injecting rogue MQTT broker allows eavesdropping

Cloud and Applications

  • Inadequate access controls to cloud resources
  • Improper segmentation of development/production environments
  • SQL injection/OWASP top 10 web vulnerabilities
  • Poor separation of duties across admin accounts
  • Unsecured data storage with access keys leaked
  • Limited logging/auditing of privileged actions

Physical Environment

  • Theft of devices or tampering with installations
  • Manipulation of controls has real-world impact
  • Safety mechanisms fail putting people in danger

This list highlights common but certainly not exhaustive IoT security pitfalls. Comprehensive risk assessments uncover unique exposures for every implementation.

IoT Security Best Practices

Now we’ll explore security best practices and technologies available to manage risks across the ecosystem:

Secure Devices and Data

  • Encrypt data in transit and at rest
  • Leverage hardware-backed key storage mechanisms
  • Digitally sign firmware/OS to validate authenticity
  • Require hardware attestation to confirm device identity
  • Support over-the-air updates for patching vulnerabilities
  • Disable unused ports and input validators to prevent buffer overflows

Authenticate User Access

  • Enforce password complexity standards
  • Configure access rules based on the least privilege
  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Maintain audit logs for access monitoring
  • Disable unused user accounts
  • Require re-authentication after periods of inactivity

Authorize API Access

  • Provision unique credentials to each client/user
  • Validate JWT tokens or API keys on every request
  • Limit requests to only necessary data for a given audience
  • Restrict actions allowed for a given API consumer
  • Rate limit requests to prevent brute force attacks
  • Mask raw data with redaction for PII fields

Secure Networks

  • Encrypt network traffic with VPNs or TLS
  • Filter input/output packets against defined policies
  • Separate networks virtually with VLAN segmentation
  • Detect intrusions via network traffic analysis
  • Continuously scan for misconfigured security rules

Harden Cloud Resources

  • Follow least privilege and separation of duties
  • Apply the Shared Responsibility security model
  • Enable cloud-native security tools like logging, reporting, and alerts
  • Regularly scan cloud resources for misconfigurations
  • Model potential attack vectors with penetration testing

Maintain Physical Security

  • Secure physical devices in locked enclosures
  • Detect tampering attempts with sensors
  • Require badges or keys to access facilities
  • Install video surveillance covering critical infrastructure
  • Conduct risk assessments identifying vulnerabilities

Foster Security Conscious Culture

  • Provide all personnel security education & training
  • Develop and enforce cloud-first security policies
  • Automate policies using infrastructure as code techniques
  • Treat security as everyone’s responsibility
  • Evangelize and reward secure design thinking

This framework delivers defense in depth safeguarding the entire IoT stack. Every layer mutually reinforces security for other elements creating barriers against entire classes of risk categories.

Securing IoT Over Solution Lifecycle

IoT security best practices need application across the entire solution lifecycle:

Prototype – Start safe even for proof of concepts testing core functionality

Develop – Embed security early in the design process using secure coding techniques

Deploy – Secure installation, configuration, and integration into IT environments

Operate – Maintain security hygiene with ongoing patching, scanning, and monitoring

Decommission – Securely wipe or destroy devices and data at end-of-life

A continuous process of reinforcing security moves projects safely from concept to production deployment and eventual replacement keeping the entire lifecycle protected.

Creating An IoT Security Program

With threats identified and best practices framed, pulling disparate security initiatives into an official program ensures consistent, measurable execution coordinated under common leadership.

The main steps to launching an IoT security program include:

  • Establish leadership with centralized ownership
  • Draft an IoT-specific security policy aligning with corporate standards
  • Conduct risk assessments identifying gaps and prioritizing remediation
  • Develop technical standards all projects must adhere towards
  • Deliver specialized security training for various staff functions
  • Automate policy enforcement via infrastructure as code
  • Continuously measure compliance metrics and address gaps
  • Foster a culture emphasizing security at each stage

Solid IoT security foundations enable innovation and growth without undue risk.

IoT Security Program

Recommended IoT Security Technologies

Complementing top practices, and purpose-built technologies helps address common IoT security challenges:

Device Security

  • Trusted Platform Modules (TPM)
  • Hardware root of trust
  • Real-time OS
  • TrustZone

Data Security

  • Homomorphic encryption
  • Differential privacy
  • Tokenization

Identity and Access

  • OAuth2
  • OpenID Connect
  • SAML Integration


  • Software-Defined Perimeter
  • Zero Trust Architecture
  • 5G network slicing

Cloud Security

  • Cloud-native access security broker
  • Microsegmentation
  • Encryption key management


  • Policy as code
  • Cloud security posture management
  • Continuous compliance monitoring

Investing in next-generation security technology pays dividends securing IoT innovation today and into the future.

Key Takeaways on IoT Security Best Practices

To summarize, modern IoT security:

  • Spans across devices, networks, cloud, analytics and users
  • Requires ongoing vigilance across the solution lifecycle
  • Needs coordinated leadership via a security program
  • Follows a defense-in-depth approach with safeguards at every layer
  • Invests in emerging technologies enhancing protections
  • Prioritizes actions based on risk assessments
  • Hardens both Information Technology and Operational Technology
  • Trains all staff given expanded attack surfaces
  • Automates policies for consistency and audibility
  • Treats security as an enabler of innovation, not an impediment

With risks identified and frameworks constructed, the journey continues evolving security capabilities in lockstep with your advancing IoT maturity.

IoT Security Frequently Asked Questions

We’ll wrap up by addressing common IoT security questions:

What are the most important first steps for IoT security?

Prioritize identity and access management, network encryption, and cloud security posture management as foundational initiatives. Require security sign-offs at all stages.

How to balance usability and security for devices?

Apply intelligent authentication methods using gateways so devices themselves remain accessible behind firewalls while benefiting from cloud-managed security.

What’s the difference between IT and OT security?

IT protects information systems like servers and computers using techniques like anti-virus and access controls. OT secures physical operational equipment in the field also worrying about availability and safety.

How to secure legacy embedded devices?

Wrap legacy devices behind gateways acting as a secure tunnel proxy to the cloud without ripping and replacing existing electronics.

What’s the best way to start an IoT security program?

Begin with a current state risk analysis, draft a formal policy, deliver generalized training then tackle issues by highest priority using both process and technology fixes.

How can I monitor the security posture of my full IoT infrastructure?

Leverage cloud-native tools for asset inventory, compliance monitoring, and reporting to maintain surveillance across your hybrid deployment no matter where devices and workloads reside.

We hope this guide helps set your IoT infrastructure on the right security path from day one avoiding easily preventable mistakes. Contact an expert to discuss your unique security and compliance needs.

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