Network key to IoT security

Effective protection of IoT devices will require multiple layers of security, including the network level.

The Internet of Things has been described as a ticking time bomb for data security, with every company involved in the long and complex delivery chain still scratching their heads on the best approach to defusing it.

Research firm Gartner believe that over 20bn connected IoT devices will be in use by 2020, up from 8.4bn in 2017 – a broad mix of business and consumer hardware ranging from smart energy and utility meters, manufacturing field devices, process sensors for electrical generating plants and real-time location devices for healthcare) to LED lighting, HVAC and physical security systems.

Some advocate embedding adequate data security within that IoT hardware itself whilst others believe protection is best integrated at the software level. But there is a third option – by definition all IoT devices are connected to some type of network and the data they collect and transmit can also be protected at the network edge.

It is difficult to discern any obvious perimeter in the vast, distributed networks that the IoT requires, and firewalls and intruder detection/prevention systems will offer little advantage. What could work better is a combination of smart hubs, edge switches and routers which authenticate the devices being attached to them through identification and classification processes.

Real-time monitoring and analysis of network traffic can highlight anomalies that could indicate potential security problems, with untrusted devices effectively quarantined using network segmentation.

The innate value of IoT comes from the information being collected and the operational insight it provides. But not all of that data is sensitive from a security perspective or needs to be stored and processed in centralised repositories. Network hardware able to aggregate the vast amounts of traffic from thousands or hundreds of thousands of interconnected devices can streamline the analytics process, filter unnecessary content and encrypt the mission critical data which is left.

Ultimately the most effective form of IoT protection will probably involve a ‘strength in depth’ approach that uses multiple layers of security in different parts of the value chain, and the network will have a vital role to play.

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