How to Balance Today's Security Threats in the Internet of Things

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The Internet of Things are creating new opportunities, it’s also giving cyber criminals new and unforeseen ways to gain access to systems and information.

By now, we’ve all heard that the Internet of Things (IoT) is creating unprecedented opportunities for networked connections among people, processes, data and things. And we are seeing how these connections are impacting our lives on a daily basis, changing everything from the way we deliver healthcare to heating our homes to running our manufacturing facilities.

Today there are 10 billion connected devices but that number is expected to grow exponentially – exceeding 50 billion sensors, objects, and other connected “things” by the year 2020.

The ultimate goal of IoT is to:

  1. Increase operational efficiency
  2. Power new business models
  3. And yes, improve quality of life

Today, CIOs are beginning to see that IoT is no longer hype, it is real. “Last year it was more conceptual, while now the practical applications are coming in,” says the CITO of a large university.

While the IoT has created a wealth of new opportunities, it’s also given cyber criminals new and unforeseen ways to gain access to systems and information. To capitalize on the opportunities that the IoT brings, it requires secure networked connection, which is foundational to delivering on the promise of the vision.

And IT feels the pain of how to make IoT is secure. A CIO told Cisco earlier this year, “a hacker only needs to get lucky once, as CIO, I need to be lucky 100 percent of the time.”

The Risks
With the future connection of billions of devices, the number and type of attack vectors will increase, as will the amount of data, creating a daunting challenge for those responsible for defending the infrastructure. It’s no longer a matter of if attacks will happen, but when.

So what are the real risks? Through its network of security research programs and initiatives, Cisco examines threat intelligence and cybersecurity trends.  These are shared semi-annually through Cisco’s Midyear and Annual Security Reports.  The security report underscores just how many different types of weak links exist in the systems we trust, including the Internet itself, and what can be done to reduce their number and impact.  In addition to cybersecurity trends, the report shows other drivers of data privacy issues are the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. As enterprises consider new ways to connect devices to each other, and use massive datasets to make business decisions, they need structure and rules for how this data may be handled on a global scale.

And some of the biggest finding coming out of Cisco’s Annual Security Report include:

Attackers have become more proficient at taking advantage of gaps in security to hide and conceal malicious activity.

  • Spam volume increased 250 percent from January 2014 to November 2014.
  • Snowshoe spam, which involves sending low volumes of spam from a large set of IP addresses to avoid detection is an emerging threat. ?

Users and IT teams have become unwitting parts of the security problem.

  • Online criminals rely on users to install malware to exploit security gaps.
  • Heartbleed, the dangerous security flaw, critically exposes OpenSSL. Yet 56 percent of all OpenSSL versions are older than 50 months and are therefore still vulnerable.
  • Users’ careless behavior when using the Internet, combined with targeted campaigns by adversaries, places many industry verticals at higher risk of web malware exposure.
    • In 2014, the pharmaceutical and chemical industry emerged as the number-one highest-risk vertical for web malware exposure, according to Cisco Security Research.

The Cisco Security Capabilities Benchmark Study reveals disconnects in perceptions of security readiness.

  • About 75 percent of CISOs see their security tools as very or extremely effective, with about one-quarter perceiving security tools as only somewhat effective.
  •  Ninety-one percent of respondents from companies with sophisticated security strongly agree that company executives consider security a high priority.
  • Larger, midsize organizations are more likely to have highly sophisticated security postures, compared to organizations of other sizes included in the study.
  • Ninety percent of companies are confident about their security policies, processes, and procedures. 

To combat these security challenges, and to ensure IoT gets off the ground at their organizations, IT and security professionals need to partner with their vendors. According to Cisco’s, Chief Security and Trust Officer John Stewart, the next vital step—the hope—will be that manufacturers finally recognize that they must build security into their products.

Stewart predicts that as the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves, and there are more “people-less devices on the Internet than people-with devices” there will be inevitable “accidents” of potentially great magnitude. Designing security into products will help to avoid many of these issues, or at least, lessen their impact.

The New Opportunities
There are not enough resources or expertise to address all the data and events across the exploding number of connected devices. However, organizations that address these challenges with a holistic approach can be better prepared to capture value from new opportunities. What’s needed is a threat-centric and automated approach to security that spans the operational technology (OT) -- where many of the IoT devices often live -- and information technology (IT) domains.

Traditionally, organizations control and monitor these environments separately. As the OT layer becomes increasingly IP-enabled and web connected, the OT layer can become a point of vulnerability allowing the IT layer to be attacked.  This means IT leaders need a unified approach across both domains that delivers the following imperatives:

  • Visibility-Driven: The more we can see, the more we can correlate information and apply intelligence to make better decisions, and take action—either manually or automatically. This capability has broad implications for not only IT security, but across the entire enterprise.
  • Threat-Centric: As we focus on detecting, understanding, and stopping security threats through continuous analysis, real-time security intelligence can be delivered from the cloud and shared across all security solutions to detect and remediate against threats.
  • Platform-Based: Security is no longer solely a network issue. It requires an integrated system of agile and open platforms that cover the network devices, and the cloud.

While there is no silver bullet to addressing every security risk, intelligent cyber security is what will enable a secure IoT and IoE world.

More Information: In today’s world of IoT, cybersecurity needs to be top of mind as the number and type of attack vectors will continue to increase as will the amount of data, creating a daunting challenge for companies and those responsible to defend the infrastructure.