Technology has been advancing at a dizzying speed in the last decade. Here is how to design a foolproof IoT cybersecurity strategy.

One area that has been growing fast is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT simply means a network of connected hardware devices that can communicate via an internet connection. The IoT network simplifies many processes and tasks by reducing human participation.

The Rise of IoT in Enterprise

While IoT has been a common concept in homes, enterprise use is only beginning to rise.  And with that comes the need for improved IoT cybersecurity.

McKinsey’s report shows that the adoption of IoT technology on an enterprise level has increased from 13% in 2014 to 25% in 2019. The same report forecasts that the number of connected devices is expected to shoot to 43 billion by 2023. That’s three times the number of connected devices there were connected in 2018.

It’s inevitable. IoT is becoming a prominent ingredient in enterprise operations. But there’s a caveat that comes with the rise of IoT — increased cybersecurity risks.

And that’s why you must design a foolproof IoT cybersecurity strategy.  

The Challenges of IoT Cybersecurity

IoT cybersecurity is a nightmare for most CISOs and CIOs. Unlike traditional IT cybersecurity, which is straightforward (more or less), securing an IoT environment is fraught with many challenges.

One of the biggest problems with IoT is that each device comes with its own software and firmware. In most cases, updating these is difficult. And as you know, software updates are a part of maintaining good cybersecurity hygiene. This poses a massive problem with IoT as every new line of code or functionality added could introduce new attack vectors. And conducting and monitoring updates at scale is next to impossible.

Another challenge is that most IoT devices don’t support third-party endpoint security solutions. One reason for this is regulations surrounding the devices (like FDA regulations for medical devices). As a result, enterprises end up focusing their security on the communication channels between devices and networks.

On an enterprise level, the number of connected devices is just too massive to keep track of. You can end up wasting valuable time and resources playing cat and mouse just to keep all your devices updated. That on its own can leave you open to attacks from other directions.

The Need for Enterprise Level IoT Cybersecurity Solutions

The need for innovation and efficiency are driving the growth of IoT adoption at an enterprise level. Business growth is virtually impossible today without keeping pace with current technology trends.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the more devices you have in your network, the more vulnerable you are. And because enterprises can deploy IoT devices and services at scale, they run a higher risk of being vulnerable to external threats.

That’s why, when adopting IoT in your business, you must be prepared to beef up your cybersecurity.

Because of the large number of devices in the network, IoT cybersecurity must be taken seriously. This is because a single infected device can infect and compromise the entire network. As a result, malicious agents can gain access to sensitive data or have control of your operations.  

4 Must-Haves for Foolproof IoT Cybersecurity

Because there are many entry points that malicious actors can take advantage of, IoT cybersecurity requires a multi-layered and scalable security solution. Here are some of the major components to consider as you build your IoT cybersecurity strategy.

  1. Block Attackers with Next-Generation Firewalls

A firewall is a network security device that monitors network traffic. It can permit or block data packets from accessing your devices based on a set of security rules and protocols. As the name suggests, its purpose is to establish a barrier between your internal network and external sources. Doing this prevents hackers and other cyber threats from gaining access to your network.

While there are many different types of firewalls, for your IoT cybersecurity strategy to be effective, you must employ next-generation firewalls (NGFW). Basic firewalls only look at packet headers, while NGFW includes deep packet inspection. This allows for the examination of the data within the packet itself. As a result, users can more effectively identify, categorize, or stop packets with malicious data.

Next-gen firewalls are a vital part of any IoT cybersecurity strategy as they can monitor traffic between multiple devices effectively. As a result, only verified traffic is allowed access to your network.

  1. Secure Data with Encryption

Another layer of security you need to consider for your IoT cybersecurity strategy is encryption.

A study by ZScaler shows that over 91.5% of enterprise transactions occur over plain text channels. That means only 8.5% of transactions are encrypted. This is worrisome as this means hackers have a huge opportunity to access enterprise systems and wreak havoc. For example, they could launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that could cripple your business.

One way you can prevent malicious actors from gaining access to your network is to secure your data with encryption. This must be both for your software and hardware. But more importantly, you must use encrypted VPN solutions to ensure the safe transmission of data between your devices.

  1. Identity and Access Management

Initially designed for users, identity and access management (IAM) security solutions were designed for users. IAM ensures that only authorized people have access to systems and information they need to do their job. It also ensures that only authorized users have access to critical data.

But with the proliferation of IoT, IAM (which is sound management) is becoming another layer of security that can be applied to devices.

Just like human beings, digital devices have identities. And IAM tools have evolved to the point of being able to manage hundreds of thousands of devices and their users. With products like A3 from AeroHive, for example, IAM can identify each device in your network and grants them specific access controls.

When it comes to enterprise IoT, managing all your connected devices’ digital identity is critical to safeguarding your network infrastructure. More important is to ensure that each device only has the required access levels to your data. 

  1. Network Segmentation

Network access control (NAC) has been a critical part of cybersecurity since the birth of networks. And to this day, it remains an integral part of most cybersecurity strategies – especially IoT cybersecurity. 

The good thing about traditional network endpoints is that they usually run endpoint protection services. However, with IoT, this is not the case. And that’s where network segmentation comes in.

Using NGFWs to segment your IoT network from the rest of your network is advisable as it keeps potential threats confined within a controlled environment. For example, if an attacker manages to gain access to a device in your segmented IoT network, the threat is confined to that part of your network alone.   

Putting It All Together – Designing an IoT Cybersecurity Strategy

Now that you’ve seen your best options for IoT cybersecurity let’s quickly dive into designing your strategy. However, note that this is not a guide set in stone as every business’s cybersecurity needs are never the same. 

That being said, here are a few guidelines to help you design your enterprise IoT cybersecurity strategy: 

Determine what You Need to Protect

With your security protocols and guidelines in place, the next step to foolproof  IoT cybersecurity is to determine what you need to protect. This involves conducting an audit on:

Your Processes 

Understanding the most critical processes in your organization is essential as it enables you to know where to focus your efforts. Most cyberattacks target processes that can cripple your business, so be sure to have a clear picture of these.  Know what they  are — know how to protect.

Your Devices 

From data storage devices to devices that facilitate your processes, you must know every device in your network and where it fits in your operations. Remember, you’re only as secure as your most vulnerable device. And because all your data is stored and transmitted by your devices, you must invest more effort and time in ensuring your security is foolproof here.

Your Personnel

One aspect of cybersecurity many organizations overlook is their staff. You must ensure that your employees are up-to-date with the latest cybersecurity protocols and safety measures. Failure to do this could make your employees unknowingly compromise your security. For example, one employee could give another a password just to speed up an aspect of your process. While this may seem as harmless as playing a game during work hours — this is a severe breach of security protocol.

Having a clear view of how your devices and their users are connected is crucial to understanding your network’s most vulnerable points. As a result, you can plan on which security solutions you can implement at each point.

Consider Compliance

Sure, compliance is not really a security issue, but they do go hand in hand. That’s why as you plan your IoT cybersecurity strategy, you must do so with compliance in mind.

Incompliance is a serious issue that must be addressed as you map out your cybersecurity plan. Failure to comply could lead to you being slapped with hefty fines.

So what exactly does compliance mean in cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity compliance involves meeting various controls enacted by a regulatory authority, law, or industry group. These controls are put in place to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data that your business works with. Compliance requirements are different for each industry or sector, and that’s why you must always be careful to know your industry’s specificities.

To ensure that you’re compliant, always have a compliance program that runs in conjunction with your cybersecurity strategy.

Know and Anticipate Your Threats

To ensure that you design a robust IoT cybersecurity strategy, you need to know and understand the security risks you face. To do this, start by evaluating your business by asking questions like:

  • What is your product?
  • Who are your customers?

While these may seem like simple questions, the answers will help you answer two fundamental questions:

This will help you narrow down the types of attacks that will most likely be targeted at your business.

You can also determine the kind of threats you’re most likely to face by studying your competitors. Take note of their risk profiles or the most common breaches in your industry.

Knowing the threats you’re likely to face will help you understand the kind of security measures you must put in place. After all, knowing your enemy is half the battle won (so they say).

Once you’ve determined all these factors, the next step is the most critical – selecting your cybersecurity framework. 

Select an Appropriate Cybersecurity Framework

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to get practical by selecting and implementing your preferred cybersecurity framework. In essence, a cybersecurity framework is a set of policies and procedures recommended by leading cybersecurity organizations. These frameworks enhance cybersecurity strategies in enterprise environments. A cybersecurity framework must be documented for both knowledge and implementation procedures.

Different industries have different cybersecurity frameworks designed and developed to reduce the risk and impact of your network’s vulnerabilities.

While cybersecurity frameworks are never the same, they all must address five critical functions of cybersecurity.

  1. Identify. Your framework must help you identify the existing cyber touchpoints within your business environment.
  2. Protect. This function addresses how you take care of access control, data security, and other proactive tasks to ensure your network is secure.
  3. Detect: Here, your framework addresses how you will identify any potential breaches. This is usually done by monitoring logs and intrusion detection procedures at network and device level.
  4. Respond. How do you respond when a breach is detected? You must have a procedure for understanding the breach and fixing the vulnerability.
  5. Recover. This stage of your framework deals with creating a recovery plan, designing a disaster recovery system, and backup plans.

With a cybersecurity framework covering these five areas, your enterprise IoT cybersecurity strategy will be robust enough to handle (almost) anything. 

As I said, there are myriad different types of cybersecurity frameworks you can adopt. However, most of them fit in one of three categories, according to cybersecurity expert Frank Kim. Let’s take a cursory look at them, so you have a better understanding of frameworks and how they fit in your cybersecurity strategy:

  • Control Frameworks

Control frameworks are the foundation of your cybersecurity. They help you:

  • Identify a baseline set of controls
  • Assess the state of technical capabilities (and inefficiencies)
  • Prioritize the implementation of controls 
  • Develop an initial roadmap your security team should follow

Examples of control frameworks include NIST 800-53 and CIS Controls (CSC).

  • Program Frameworks

Program frameworks are designed to help you develop a proactive cybersecurity strategy that enables you to identify, detect, and respond to threats. This is achieved by helping you:

  • Assess the state of your security program
  • Build a more comprehensive security program
  • Measure your program’s maturity and compare it to industry benchmarks
  • Simplify communications between your security team and business leaders

Examples of program frameworks include ISO 27001 and NIST CSF, among others.

  • Risk Frameworks

The risk framework allows you to prioritize security activities and ensure that the security team manages your cybersecurity program well. You can use this framework to:

  • Define key processes and steps for assessing and managing risk
  • Properly structure your risk management program
  • Identify, measure, and quantify risks 

Examples of risk frameworks include ISO 27005 and FAIR.

For an exhaustive list of examples of the different types of cybersecurity frameworks you can implement in your business, check out this article.

It’s Time to Take IoT Cybersecurity Seriously

The rapid digital transformation that has been brought about by COVID-19 and the fast adoption of remote work has led to many organizations’ cybersecurity being stretched to its limits. Throw in IoT into the mix, and cybersecurity has become a nightmare for most organizations.

But this shouldn’t be the case for your business.

The key to winning cyber wars is to be proactive and anticipate cyberattacks before they happen. And this is when a cybersecurity strategy comes to play. 

As you adopt IoT in your business’s infrastructure and processes, make sure to design and implement a robust security strategy. This will help mitigate the risk of you falling prey to malicious agents who thrive on taking advantage of vulnerabilities in an enterprise’s IT infrastructure.

So, it’s time to take your IoT cybersecurity seriously.

Neal Taparia

Entrepreneur & Investor

Neal Taparia is the co-founder of Imagine Easy Solutions, a portfolio of online educational services that reached over 30 million students yearly. Neal sold the business to Chegg (NYSE: CHGG), where he stayed there as an executive for three years. He's now pursuing a new initiative, Solitaired, which ties classical games with memory and attention training.