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The Security of Everything

Unless you’ve been out of contact with civilisation for the last few years, you’ll know about the Internet of Things (IoT).

Just to catch you up, it’s the advent of a myriad of devices which are not only connected to the internet but also, in many cases, generate data.

What sort of devices? Think about any smart device, or any monitored device or any internet-aware device. It could be any or all of the following, which can be found in most organisations:

  • vending machines that notify the operator when stock is low, cash boxes are full, or change is required
  • remotely-monitored exit signs that light the way to your fire exits.
  • IP phone systems
  • multifunction printers (a recent exploit has been uncovered which allows bad actors onto enterprise networks via unsecured fax lines connected to certain multifunction printers)
  • smart whiteboards and projectors
  • security swipe card systems
  • elevator and other building management and monitoring systems
  • unmanaged end user devices connected over the enterprise Wi-Fi network (a reasonably recent example was an internet-connected thermometer in a fish tank in a casino’s lobby, which let hackers access the company network and steal high roller data. I assume the fish denied everything. Or maybe they were just being koi. (Sorry.))
  • CCTV systems which may connect to third-party security providers
  • smart TVs, fridges and other appliances in the corporate kitchen, even though the ‘smart’ component often isn’t even used in a business kitchen setting.

And, as we know, where there’s an internet connection, there’s a threat vector.

The problem with IoT is the unstructured and unmanaged nature of these connected devices. In many cases, the manufacturers of these more general devices are mostly focused on the specific functionality of their appliance and may not even consider wider enterprise security ramifications.

Internet connections for many devices may be active by default, and often not able to be patched or managed as they are hard-soldered onto circuit boards. And, in some cases, you may not even know that a device is internet-aware and could be acting as a gateway onto your corporate network.

It’s fair to say that, for many organisations, worrying about being hacked via the smart TV or the Wi-Fi sound bar in the company boardroom is not top of mind.

So what’s the answer?

First, if you haven’t thought about it already, be aware that this is a threat vector. It’s one that only deliberate attackers would attempt to use, which makes any kind of breach probably quite serious.

Consider that it takes serious and direct effort to try to break into an enterprise network via a smart fridge or the CCTV system.

Second, identify and isolate these devices with network segmentation. Use any of the available technology tools to find devices that transmit or attempt to connect to the network or the internet, and determine the best course of action from there. If they need to remain connected (or you can’t turn the connectivity off) then make sure they can only access quarantined parts of the network. If they’re wired devices, ensure patch panels are wired correctly and network leads aren’t accidently plugged into a secured or other production networks.

If devices transmit and receive wirelessly, ensure they can only communicate over guest or utility-rated network connections.

Third, (or maybe first depending on your approach) ensure your IT security management procedures and policies address IoT. Develop protocols and procedures around the receipt, activation, screening, and management of internet-enabled devices which are consistent with adding any other network-enabled devices. Make sure facility managers know about these protocols and procedures, as building management systems are increasingly the focus of external attacks.

Fourth, train people and ask them to acknowledge the policies you have in place. It’s important that staff, contractors, and visitors understand the implications of connecting any kind of device to any active network in the organisation and don’t do it without -permission.

Last, put technology in place to monitor, log, and notify you if there is suspicious activity on your networks. Many organisations are doing this anyway as part and parcel of managing IT security, but this is becoming more important in an IoT world. Logging tools and threat intelligence solutions are the cornerstone here.

While IoT offers many benefits when it comes to productivity, convenience, cost savings, and many more areas, it does open a whole new front when it comes to fighting cyberattacks and protecting organisational assets.

More by the Steve Challans