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Electronically Securing IoT Devices for the Future

September 18, 2019 by Sam Holland

As IoT-connected devices continue to rise in popularity, there is a growing need to secure them against cyber-attacks that plague the internet daily and continue to grow in prominence. These threats have the potential to access sensitive information—to the extent that conventional anti-virus and firewall solutions will not suffice.

Challenges Associated with Conventional Security Architecture for IoT Systems

As new and more dangerous threats plague the internet, manufacturers must implement the latest security frameworks. However, in the IoT sphere, this is scarcely the case. The following are some of the most challenging security issues that face IoT devices:


Diverse Operating Systems

One of the biggest challenges in developing security protocols for IoT-connected devices is the diversity of the operating systems they utilise. As there is no unified system for integration, network administrators will have to design many different solutions to secure them. Moreover, as cyber threats increase, security upgrades are required more frequently.


Limited Memory Sizes

Given the diversity of applications in IoT devices, many of them are limited in both physical size and memory. This problem makes it challenging for providers to implement security protocols, as such precautions—not only require the adequate memory space—but also create additional challenges concerning security upgrades to the existing software.


Outdated Communication Protocols

Many IoT systems use basic and/or legacy communication protocols (such as Linux Kernels) that do not support up-to-date security architecture. The implications of this are that such precautions are incapable of blocking current and advanced security threats and cannot receive security updates in real time.

With each passing year, these protocols become ever-more vulnerable to attacks if no effective measures are taken to safeguard them.


Hackable Credentials

The factory-default login credentials found in several IoT devices make them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks (such as the Mirai Botnet DDoS attack, which targets internet-connected devices with default usernames and passwords—including admin credentials). This problem is further exacerbated by manufacturers who neither include user instructions on how to change such credentials nor act on the impact that a resultant security breach could have on their customers’ stored information.


Poor Data Management

Alongside the fact that temporary data remains stored in caches for longer than necessary, a growing challenge in the space of IoT devices is that user information—over the web, mobile apps, and the cloud—are transmitted without the use of encryption.

Such user information can be used to potentially identify individuals, and it can even be stolen to gain control of a device remotely. This problem is largely down to the fact that IoT systems manufacturers lack a legal and regulatory structure for data privacy compliance.


A young woman using a smartphone in a café. Image courtesy of Pixabay.


What Essential Security Technologies and/or Standards can Help Secure IoT Devices?

Earlier, we established that legacy security technologies are not sufficient to protect IoT devices from cyber threats. Accordingly, the next few sections provide some of the most effective security technologies:


Network Security

In an era of increasing security threats, IoT manufacturers must implement the latest wireless security protocols and standards. A few effective solutions are Wi-Fi, Z-wave, and NFC (near-field communication). Let's take a closer look at these protocols and how they can help secure IoT devices:


Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is a ubiquitous protocol capable of very fast data transmission speeds. Its key benefit is that it possesses sufficient bandwidth to support the transfer of large volumes of data securely over-the-air. For IoT devices and systems, the Wi-Fi HaLow, developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, enables low-power and long-range connectivity for smart homes, cars, retail and more.


Z-wave: Z-wave is one of the most secure technologies for protecting IoT devices against ransomware. It is widely used in smart home automation and utilises the same level of encryption used in banks to secure its customers’ information.

The software architecture for Z-wave is a special mesh network that allows connectivity for hundreds of smart-home-friendly devices. Each device acts as a ‘repeater’, which contributes its quota to strengthening the entire network. Z-wave systems also support app and remote monitoring and are currently implemented in over 50 million devices worldwide.


NFC: Near Field Communication is a security protocol for point-to-point secure communications between devices, such as smartphones. It establishes an RF connection between devices located within 10 centimetres of each other. However, both devices must contain a special NFC tag.

Common applications for NFC in IoT involve contactless mobile payments, ticket purchases, and digital content downloads.


Data Encryption

Data encryption is critical for safeguarding IoT devices from cyber threats. Some highly effective encryption protocols include the U.S. Government Advanced Encryption Standard, RSA Encryption, and the Twofish Encryption Algorithm.


A smartphone screen that displays the topic of cybersecurity. Image courtesy of Pixabay.


Security Analytics and Cyber Threat Prediction

Engineers and data scientists can use AI to map out algorithms to predict and study the strategies that attackers use to gain access to IoT devices. The information can be used to ‘plug’ the existing loopholes or develop additional structures in the overall security architecture.


All in all, with the rapid growth of IoT devices and systems, the said enhanced security protocols and other precautions will be critical for protecting against malware, unauthorised access, information theft, and a host of other issues that arise with everyday use of the internet.

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