Security is one of the most important considerations when developing Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Due to the ever-increasing number of cyberattacks worldwide, engineers and developers are now recognising that unless an IoT device possesses strong cybersecurity features, it will be vulnerable to malicious actors. The key to building a secure IoT device is to ensure that all the components of the device are adequately protected. This means that developers must implement a comprehensive security solution that is designed to protect the device or system from cybersecurity threats. Only then can the integrity of the IoT devices be guaranteed and the data that is collected be protected. Fortunately, there are several ways in which organisations can ensure that their IoT devices are properly secured before they are being launched into the market.
The Architecture of IoT Devices
Here's an overview of the components that help form an IoT device's architecture before we proceed to identify the security measures that should be implemented:
1. IoT Device Layer
This refers to front-end connected devices such as sensors, smart devices, or surveillance cameras that gather data. Data collected at this point will be sent to the Gateway Layer.
2. IoT Gateway Layer
This is where raw data from IoT devices is collected, acknowledged, and pre-processed before it is sent to the next layer. Two important components of this layer are the Wi-Fi connection and the Firewall.
3. IoT Platform Layer
This is the final stage where data is stored for processing. Application software can be used at this layer for data analysis or resource-intensive operations such as machine learning training. After processing the data, the output will be transmitted back to the IoT Device Layer via the Gateway Layer.
IoT Security Challenges at the Various Layers
The three layers of the IoT architecture as described above are all vulnerable to security threats. However, some of the most challenging security issues seem to occur in the IoT Device Layer where connected devices are compromised or infiltrated. When this happens, hackers can remotely install malware to spy on users, steal sensitive data, or launch attacks against other devices on the network. These cybersecurity threats can often be the result of using unsecured or counterfeit devices, weak or hard-coded passwords, and lack of privacy protection.
Because the IoT Gateway Layer bridges the gap between IoT devices and the Cloud, users who install unreliable software to the network or install unsecured services and systems are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks and data theft via unencrypted connections. As such, users are advised against installing unnecessary or unsecured network services on their devices.
At the IoT Platform Layer, a common security threat that many businesses encounter occurs during the sharing of data. Since cloud services are designed to make data sharing easy across organisations, the increase in share points naturally presents more opportunities for hackers to gain access to critical data. Sometimes the attacks may go as far as denying access to cloud services in a bid to disrupt business operations, manipulate data, return falsified information, and redirect users to illegitimate sites. This presents a huge challenge for organisations especially when they are operating in highly regulated industries.
How to Secure Your IoT Devices
It may be hard to pre-empt and pinpoint where a cyberattack might land in the entire IoT architecture of a device, but in terms of protection there are three basic strategies that businesses can adopt to lower their vulnerability:
1. Establish Hardware Root-of-Trust
A hardware Root-of-Trust can be an important building block for more secure IoT devices and network implementations. A Root-of-Trust is the identity as well as cryptographic keys rooted in the hardware of a device. It offers a unique identity to authorise a device in the IoT network and protects against counterfeiting, cloning, and reverse engineering. There are three ways to implement Root-of-Trust:
- Insertion of a key or certificate within MPU/CPU/microcontrollers that have a One Time Programmable (OTP) capability during the manufacturing process. This allows an imprint of the Root-of-Trust “DNA” that is unique to the specific device.
- Incorporate the key in the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) or Hardware Secure Modules (HSM) that is capable of cryptography.
- Use a third-party technology partner with hardware Root-of-Trust solutions.
2. Implement Threat Modelling
Threat modelling can offer insights into how a cyber attacker can infiltrate a system and ensure appropriate mitigations are in place. Businesses can use this strategy to establish standardised security measures and operating procedures to manage their systems and IoT devices. Threat modelling offers the greatest value when it is incorporated during the design phase because there is more flexibility to specify potential threats and create the best possible outcome. Conversely, introducing threat modelling on mature products is more difficult because retrofitting security features is impractical and error-prone. Businesses that want to utilise threat modelling should apply the following steps to ensure successful implementation:
- Identify the IoT devices or systems to be protected.
- Define the security problems and systems that have cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
- Conduct risk assessment on potential damage from attacks and the capabilities of hackers.
- Identify the security objectives.
- Define the security requirements and features needed to meet the security objectives.
- Design and implement the security measures.
- Validate and assess if the security measures meet the requirements and objectives.
3. Adopt Strong Cryptography
Cryptography refers to the study of secure communications techniques that allow only the sender and intended recipient of a message to view its contents. The benefit of using cryptography lies in its ability to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of both data in transit and data stored in specific devices. It is also one of the best practices to encrypt a large amount of data when navigating the limitations of IoT. Transport Layer Security (TLS) is an example of a cryptographic protocol. TLS is often used to protect applications like email, instant messaging, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Manufacture Secure IoT Devices with PCI
As IoT becomes more ubiquitous in various industries, it is important for businesses to implement robust security measures in their devices. This is where an established electronics manufacturing service provider like PCI can help. Offering a range of services from design to full-scale manufacturing, we can help you develop secure IoT devices. We also offer guidance on various cybersecurity implementations, so that you can ensure your devices are always secure. At PCI, we are committed to providing the highest levels of security and quality assurance, get in touch with us today to discuss your IoT projects and security needs. Our dedicated customer service team will provide a comprehensive proposal customised to your requirements.
As cyberattacks become more frequent and sophisticated, businesses must take the necessary steps to protect their IoT devices. For IoT developers to design and build competent devices that ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data, they must study the architecture of IoT devices and understand the vulnerable areas that are susceptible to external threats before they can implement strategies to counter the problems. This is not an easy process for most IoT developers, but they can always engage the help of a reliable electronics manufacturing service provider like PCI. With a strong understanding of the various security implementations and standards, our team of experts can help businesses manufacture secure IoT devices and systems that are resilient to a wide variety of cybersecurity threats.