Security Impacts of the Growing IoT Landscape

As the Internet of Things (IoT) expands and includes a greater number and range of devices, its security impacts grow as well. IoT devices have notoriously poor security, and compromised IoT devices can be used by cybercriminals to impact system availability, data security, and to bypass perimeter-based network security solutions.

The IoT is Growing

The IoT is growing rapidly. By the end of 2019, the number of connected devices was predicted to be 8.3 billion, but estimates at the end of 2019 put the number closer to 9.5 billion devices.

The rapid growth of the IoT is driven by a number of different factors. One of these drivers is the popularity of the smart home, where everything in the household has an Internet connection. As manufacturers like Google and Amazon practically give their smart assistant devices away to drive adoption, the number of IoT devices connected to the Internet is increasing quickly.

The growth of the IoT is also influenced by the advent of 5G technology. 5G mobile networks enable much faster data transfer speeds and greater device density than traditional cellular networks. This provides a better deployment environment for IoT devices since they can more easily connect to cloud-based servers via mobile networks.

Impacts of Poor IoT Security

The growth of the IoT provides a number of quality of life benefits to IoT device owners. However, it also has its downsides.

IoT devices are notorious for their poor security. The famous Mirai botnet, containing hundreds of thousands of devices at its peak, was built by malware that simply tried to log into IoT devices using the Telnet protocol and a list of 61 username and password combinations. IoT devices also commonly include vulnerabilities and do not enjoy the same level of cybersecurity protections (like antivirus) or regular patching and updates as computers or mobile devices.

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As a result, IoT devices are often easily compromised by cybercriminals. Once an attacker has gained access to and control over an IoT device, they can use it to perform a number of attacks.

  • Larger, More Frequent DDoS Attacks

One of the biggest negative impacts of the growth of the IoT is an increase in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack size and frequency. A DDoS attack is designed to degrade or destroy the functionality of a target system by overwhelming it with more data than it can handle.

Accomplishing this requires the attacker to have a significant quantity of computational and network resources since all of the data that a target receives must come from somewhere. While an attacker has some advantages, such as the availability of DDoS amplifiers, a DDoS attacker still requires many or powerful attacking systems.

The growing number of insecure IoT devices makes it easy for a would-be DDoS attacker to build a botnet. Cybercriminals can exploit known vulnerabilities in IoT software or follow in Mirai’s footsteps, gaining control of devices by authenticating to them using known default credentials. Since each IoT device is an Internet-connected computer, it is ideally suited to becoming part of a DDoS botnet.

  • Leaks of Sensitive Data

The growth of the smart home means that many people have deployed devices in their homes, offices, or other places with access to a great deal of sensitive data. Smart cameras are watching constantly and transmit their recordings to cloud servers. Smart assistants have their microphones listening 24/7, regardless of the fact that they are only supposed to record if they are addressed directly. Even a device like a smart thermostat can tell whether or not a space is currently occupied, which is invaluable intelligence for a burglar.

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The generally poor state of IoT security means that this data could be accessible to a cybercriminal who gains access to the device. Video, audio, and other data could be used for various purposes, including blackmail or laying the groundwork for other crimes.

  • Degraded Network Security

Many organizations take a perimeter-focused approach to cybersecurity. By deploying several defenses at the network boundary and attempting to stop attackers from gaining any level of access to internal systems, they decrease the probability of a data breach or other cybersecurity incident.

IoT devices deployed on the organization’s network can compromise organizational security. Since these devices are generally Internet-connected and have poor security, they can enable an attacker to gain a foothold on the network behind the organization’s firewall. Once inside, the attacker can perform vulnerability scans and other actions to enable them to expand their foothold and move laterally within the network.

Protecting Against IoT-Driven Threats

The growth of the IoT has its benefits, but it also has a significant impact upon security. The owners of IoT devices may find that their devices are compromised to steal sensitive data or to act as a foothold for an attacker attempting to gain access to their internal network. Other organizations and individuals may be impacted by poor IoT security due to an increase in DDoS attack volume and intensity.

Protecting against IoT-driven attacks requires addressing the problem at both ends. Owners of IoT devices should take steps to protect their devices from compromise, such as placing them behind a firewall, applying updates, and changing default passwords. All organizations should deploy DDoS mitigation solutions to protect themselves and decrease the profitability of performing these attacks for cybercriminals.

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