Lack of security threatens IoT, says study

September 15, 2014 // By Peter Clarke
The provision of security capabilities within emerging IoT standards is inadequate, according to a report produced by Beecham Research. The report underlines how security needs urgent attention if the IoT is to succeed.

"While we may have some visibility of potential attacks over a few months, we need to protect IoT devices in the field for 10 years or longer," said Professor Jon Howes, one of the authors of the report and technology director at Beecham Research, in a statement. "Devices must be securely managed over their entire lifecycle, to be reset if needed and to enable remote remediation to rebuild and extend security capabilities over time."

The answer to these challenges lies at the architectural level for both devices and systems and stretches from semiconductors through to network operators and system integrators, according to Beecham Research. This approach underlines the need for common security objectives across the industry and interoperability within broad systems.

This first report is part of a longer study covering silicon device vendors and extending across participants in the Internet of Things with the aim of building up a series of frameworks array of use cases.

The report stresses that malign attacks and incompetence can result in an extremely large number of detrimental conditions that range from personal inconveniences to life-threatening suspensions of service; from home owners losing control of white goods, through door locks being applied or disengaged, or alarms being turned off. In industrial and enterprise systems IoT cyber-physical attacks are already part of international terrorism and counter-terrorism.

"The attack surface of an Internet of Things system may be substantially larger than traditional PCs, as the complexity of ensuring multiple vendors' systems working together will lead to a greater probability of exploits being available,” said Professor Howes. "We have all become familiar with computer malware but the impact of equivalent IoT attacks could be to turn off a heating system in the middle of winter or take control of other critical IoT systems, which could be potentially life threatening."

Significant evolution is required in the identification, authentication and authorization of devices and people as they join IoT systems. Systems designers must also presume that all devices will become compromised at some point and ensure that it is possible to regain control. These devices will require quarantining inside the system while updates are being created and need to remain operational throughout the process.