What is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Definition and Critical Risks

Kyle Chin
Kyle Chin
updated Aug 08, 2022

The internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computers, devices, digital machines, and objects, all marked with unique identifiers (UIDs) and enabled to transfer and share data over a network. It was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 when he envisioned a future where things communicated with each other, apart from human interaction

With the evolution of web-enabled smart homes and smart devices in nearly every corner of life, IoT attack surfaces begin to emerge. Unsecured IoT devices allow threat actors to hack and gain access to entire networks or homes, which poses an enormous security risk. Because there are currently no security standards in the IoT industry, it’s important to learn the risks of IoT devices.

How Does IoT Work?

Smart devices contain embedded systems that are web-enabled with IoT sensors or processors to collect data from Wi-Fi networks. An IoT ecosystem typically contains multiple devices that can send data between each other and even execute certain actions. With simple data processing, IoT devices can choose to ignore or act on the information collected.

IoT devices don’t require any human intervention to function and only need to be connected to the same network or internet protocol (IP) address. However, humans can intervene and program devices to perform certain functions if desired.

Many large organizations and industries are starting to use machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) technology in their connected devices to make their systems more efficient, enhance customer experience, enrich the decision-making process, optimize pricing, and grow the value of the businesses.

What is the Importance of IoT?

IoT can help people live more efficiently and gain more control over their lives. Computers continue to have a hand in more work operations and bridge the information gap. IoT helps facilitate smart homes, process automation, enable healthcare wearables, and even provide managerial assistance with a real-time view of the efficiency of the systems.

For example, IoT technology can assist in the automation of digital supply chains, help companies cut down on energy consumption, labor costs, and waste. It can also improve service delivery efficiency, reduce expenses in manufacturing, and improve transparency in consumer transactions.

The emergence of cloud computing (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, etc.) has allowed large big data corporations to employ low-cost, low-power automatic data collection and processing. Digital systems can monitor and record the interaction between “things” and perform necessary actions as designated by a set of rules.

As we continue forward into the digital age, our lives will be dominated by IoT technology. From the performance of machines to logistic operations, IoT offers valuable insights into how to optimize efficiency and which areas need improvement.

Examples of IoT Systems

  • Smart Home Assistants - Smart home devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have AI voice assistants like Alexa, which can connect you to the web and perform a variety of functions such as giving weather reports, playing music, placing orders, or providing traffic information.
  • Home Appliances - Home appliances like microwaves, dryers, refrigerators, and ovens can allow a seamless integration into your daily life. These devices have customizable options for convenience, alerts when maintenance is required, or voice activation to save some time and effort.
  • Smart Technology - One of the first mainstream IoT devices was the Apple iPhone. More specifically, the iOS commanded IoT technology through the applications, which track user data and supply corresponding information. Today, we have IoT applications like smart watches, smart speakers, smart thermostats, Bluetooth headsets, smart locks, and even connected cars.
  • Power Grids - Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology helps monitor power use for more efficient electricity management. A connected grid allows utility companies and smart cities to optimize power usage, identify outages, and detect faulty infrastructure.
  • Healthcare Devices - Also known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), smart healthcare devices can provide real-time patient monitoring. In the event of an emergency, the device triggers an alert to medical professionals, which can potentially save millions of lives.
  • Farming and Agriculture - Smart farming devices can maximize harvest potential by creating better soil based on environmental conditions and determining the best time to harvest crops. Many farmers have already begun to incorporate IoT devices to improve the quality and quantity of their production.

Cybersecurity Risks in IoT

The continuous data transfer in IoT devices and internet connectivity create the inherent risk of a data breach and other cybersecurity risks. With over 10 billion IoT devices in the world, each one is a potential attack vector for hackers and cybercriminals. An enormous amount of data is being transmitted between each device, and without human intervention, it may be extremely hard to detect.

All “things” connected to your IoT network are potential access points for hackers to gain access to sensitive data or personally identifiable information (PII). Cyber risks are an unavoidable byproduct of any expanding IoT ecosystem, which has become an essential part of our world.

IoT devices mainly face security issues such as:

  1. Outdated software
  2. Lack of data encryption
  3. Application or software vulnerabilities
  4. No data or password protection
  5. Insufficient hardware protection

Most Common IoT Threats

IoT technology faces a host of cyber threats, with each becoming more sophisticated over time. Many devices connect to Wi-Fi networks through their own unsecured network, making it easy for threat actors to access. Some devices can be hacked using the default manufacturer password, giving hackers entry into entire networks.

Once inside the system, the hacker can deploy a number of attacks, including:

  • Malware - Malware is software aimed at taking control of a network or corrupting data by allowing and carrying out malicious attacks on one or more devices on the network.
  • Phishing - Phishing attacks are presented as attractive offers on social media or falsified emails to lure people into providing their personal information such as credit card details or account information.
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) - APTs are aimed at allowing unauthorized users to access a system for extended periods of time.
  • Ransomware - Ransomware is malware that denies a user access to a system or files within the system until they pay a ransom.  
  • Trojans - Trojan software creates backdoors in a system to allow a hacker access to or control over a system.
  • Spyware - Spyware is malware that is downloaded along with documents, music, movies, and other files into a computer or smartphone and shares real-time data on the device to its host. Spyware allows for sensitive information like credit card and bank details to be shared without the knowledge of the user.
  • DDoS Attacks - DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are aimed at disrupting the normal functioning of a network by flooding it with excessive requests using botnets, which overloads the system and prevents it from processing legitimate requests.

How to Identify and Prevent IoT Cyber Threats

While the digital threat landscape is largely unpredictable, it is possible to achieve effective risk management in an IoT ecosystem. Corporations both small and large need to build security protocols into their business model to focus on improved threat detection and response.

Specific roles like IT administrators or entire security teams should be responsible for securing networks, which includes all IoT devices.

1. Implement Network and Software Risk Assessments

Cyber threat intelligence is anchored on identifying gaps in a cybersecurity framework. It, therefore, has to be undertaken in cycles, with each cycle consisting of planning, data collection, evaluation, and reporting. The report is then evaluated and compared to any new information before being implemented in the decision-making process.

Assessment can be classified into three parts:

  • Strategic assessment: Assessments aimed at providing executives with information on long-term issues and providing them timely warnings. Strategic cyber-threat assessment informs decision makers on the intent of cyber criminals and their capabilities in the current IoT ecosystem.
  • Tactical assessment: Real-world assessments of events, activities, and reports that offer day-to-day customer and user support. Tactical assessment often utilizes real-time sensor data and smart meters in industrial IoT systems.
  • Operational assessment: Assessments aimed at tracking potential incidents from related events, activities, and reports. An operational assessment provides predictive maintenance options on how to respond to deal with incidents should they arise in the future.

2. Employ Defensive Measures

One of the most effective steps in securing your IoT ecosystem is implementing a strong cybersecurity policy that takes into consideration all the important strategies to mitigate cyber risk. Common defensive measures in organizations’ IoT data include:

3. Implement SIEM Solutions

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions deliver next-generation cybersecurity systems for organizations in real-time. From threat intelligence to incident response, SIEM solutions are effective at analyzing security operations on an IoT ecosystem to elevate a business’s security bearing.

SIEM solutions collect event data on your IoT platform’s applications, devices, and other systems and aggregate the information, displaying it in a clear way. The system triggers alerts that can be modified to give different notifications depending on the threat level. Some of the most common uses of SIEM solutions include:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • Identifying insider threats with use cases
  • Data aggregation
  • Data visibility
  • Monitoring adherence to regulations
  • Log management and analysis

Get Help With Your Organization’s Cybersecurity

There are billions of devices connected to the internet by the internet of things, and from them, billions of data collection points need to be secured. IoT security and privacy are major concerns, and they only become more important with the expansion of the attack surface. Besides the security and privacy risks posed by IoT, it also poses a significant risk to critical organization systems, automotive, physical objects, and public infrastructure.

With the right cyber intelligence strategy in place, your firm is bound to have better and timely insights into cyber threats. Quick response is essential among cybersecurity providers, and with the right systems and cybersecurity team in place, your business can take advantage of the benefits that come with the internet of things.

UpGuard can help improve your organization’s security posture by protecting your essential processes and services from hacks, data breaches, and data leaks. UpGuard can also provide advanced and continuous monitoring of your vendors and update your management on their security posture.

Book a free demo today for more information!

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