What Makes IoT Devices Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly becoming the backbone of modern society, with billions of interconnected devices communicating and exchanging data. IoT devices automate homes, facilitate medical treatments, and track retail orders. Unfortunately, these same connected devices also represent an opportunity for malicious actors to gain access to sensitive information or disrupt operations. 

IoT devices are highly vulnerable to cyber attacks due to their widespread use, lack of security protocols, and the fact that they often share the same network as other systems. Cybercriminals can leverage these vulnerabilities to harvest data, deploy malware, or cause significant disruptions in service.

To protect against these threats, organizations need to understand the risk factors associated with IoT devices and how they can be utilized to conduct cyber attacks.  Organizations can better defend their systems from malicious actors with the appropriate security protocols. 

How Does IoT Work?

At a very basic level, the Internet of Things (IoT) connects devices such as computers, sensors, and other physical objects to the internet without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. These connected devices “talk” to each other, exchange data, and take automated actions on the received information.

The fundamental component of IoT technology is embedded computer systems with sensors and networking capabilities. These tiny computers are known as “edge nodes”  because they send data from the edge of an IoT network out into cloud services for analysis. The edge nodes contain multiple sensors that gather information from their environment, like temperature, light levels, and movement, and actuators that can control lights and motors based on instructions from these embedded controllers.

Edge node computing is essential for triggering immediate responses when sensor readings reach predetermined thresholds or when motion detectors detect motion in cameras or security systems.

All this data collected by these edge computers gets sent off to powerful cloud computing services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, where it can be analyzed using machine learning algorithms which will then provide insight into trends within the data set so that users have actionable information regarding their IoT setup at any given time in one easy to understand dashboard view across all connected devices across all networks where applicable. 

For example many companies now deploy smart thermostats with embedded Wi-Fi communication inside buildings to monitor energy efficiency while optimizing comfort by controlling temperatures according to user preferences throughout different rooms in a building. 

This setup allows users to save money and reduce emissions through improved HVAC regulation since IoT-enabled sensing notifies maintenance staff whenever air flow becomes blocked before equipment breakdowns occur, giving quick corrective action at low cost compared to manual oversight programs used before the adoption of IoT technologies. 

IoT Vulnerabilities and Risk Mitigation

Below are explanations of some of the most common IoT security vulnerabilities as well as tips to mitigate these risks.

1. Poorly Secured Network Connections

One of the most common security vulnerabilities in IoT devices is poor management of network connections. If an IoT device is not properly configured to be securely connected to a local area network or the internet, malicious actors can gain access and exploit the device’s limited resources. Poorly secured Wi-Fi networks and unprotected Bluetooth connections are two major areas of concern. 

Without proper encryption and authentication, attackers can intercept unencrypted transmissions, gain access to sensitive data, or infect the device with malware. Additionally, insecure internet connections can provide an entry point for outside threats and ransomware attacks. 

Tip: In order to protect their IoT devices from network-based attacks, users should take the time to configure security settings properly, enable strong encryption protocols like WPA2-PSK, and keep all software up-to-date. Additionally, users should consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as an extra layer of protection when connecting IoT devices to the internet. By taking the time to secure network connections, users can better protect their devices from potential cyber-attacks. 

2. Unpatched Software and Firmware

IoT devices often contain outdated software and firmware, making them vulnerable to known security vulnerabilities. Without regular updates, attackers can exploit these flaws and gain access to a device’s resources or sensitive data.

Additionally, some IoT devices may lack the ability to receive security patches from the manufacturer, leaving users vulnerable to zero-day exploits. 

Tip: To protect their devices from known security vulnerabilities, users should regularly check for and install software updates as soon as they become available. Additionally, users should look into purchasing device models that can receive regular firmware patches, as these can help keep a device more secure over time.

3. Weak Authentication

IoT devices are often designed with minimal user authentication protocols in place. This can leave them vulnerable to brute-force login attempts, as malicious actors can guess the device’s default password or exploit weakly protected passwords.

Plus, some IoT devices don’t require a password, making it easy for attackers to access and exploit the device’s resources. 

Tip: Users should always change default passwords as soon as possible and create unique, secure passwords for each device. Additionally, users should consider enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) on all of their connected devices for an extra layer of security. 

4. Unencrypted Data Transmissions

One of the dangers of IoT devices is that they frequently send data without encryption, making it effortless for unauthorized individuals to access and interfere with transmissions. Without proper encryption protocols, malicious actors can access confidential information such as usernames, passwords, financial data, and health records. 

Tip: To keep their data safe from potential cyber threats, users should make sure that any IoT devices they use employ strong encryption protocols such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Users should always properly configure the device’s security settings and keep all software up-to-date. 

5. Poorly Secured Access Points

If you connect IoT devices to insecure access points, such as public Wi-Fi networks or unprotected Bluetooth connections. Without proper authentication and encryption, attackers can easily intercept unencrypted transmissions and gain access to sensitive data stored on the device. Plus, users may be unaware that their devices are transmitting data to unprotected access points, making it easy for attackers to gain unauthorized access. 

Tip: Users should only connect their IoT devices to trusted, secure networks to protect them from potential attacks. Also, it would be best if you considered using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as an extra layer of security when connecting devices to the internet. By taking the time to secure network connections, users can better protect their devices from potential cyber-attacks. 

6. Unmanaged Third-Party Services

Many IoT device manufacturers depend on third-party services to provide updates, patches, and information about the user’s device. If these services are not properly managed, attackers can exploit the vulnerabilities and gain access to a user’s device. 

Tip: As a user, you should ensure that any third-party services they rely on are properly managed and updated regularly. Additionally, users should consider investing in devices with built-in security features that can detect, report, and block any third-party services that might compromise the device’s security. 

We Can Help!

Contego provides comprehensive cyber threat assessments that can help organizations identify and mitigate potential risks, empowering them to better protect their data and devices from cyber-attacks. Contact us today to arrange a free assessment and learn more about how you can secure your IoT devices.