Securing Your IoT Network: 5 Best Practices to Protect Your Business

Share :

The volume of internet of things (IoT) devices is rapidly growing. From manufacturing to healthcare to retail, organisations are turning to these devices as they digitise and expand. In fact, it was estimated in 2023 that IoT devices make up 30% of devices on enterprise networks according to McKinsey & Company, and there’s an estimated 17 billion IoT devices in the world, from simple consumer devices to complicated enterprise tools.

Commercial IoT networks are expanding due to several factors. At its core, IoT offers virtually endless options for extending IP network connectivity to domains that have traditionally lacked it. Every sector, from healthcare to manufacturing, can leverage IoT to connect disparate systems and achieve new operational goals. For example, hospitals can use noninvasive IoT sensors to monitor patients and send key information to the cloud for delivery to other systems, and manufacturers can use sensors to gather operations data on the factory floor and improve efficiency. Cloud adoption also goes hand in hand with IoT adoption, as there is now more storage for data transmitted, which can then be accessed remotely.

The potential of IoT devices to boost efficiency is vast in scope, but the interconnected web of IoT devices also gives bad actors new launching pads to breach a network. Worse, these devices often come with weak or no security. In many cases, especially in manufacturing, these IoT devices are legacy devices, meaning they’re outdated and more vulnerable to intrusion or are overlooked when leaders discuss their security posture.

But IoT devices don’t need to be a weak link in your organisation’s environment. As adoption grows, so do security techniques, and there are multiple ways organisations can evaluate their IoT security and make improvements to better their overall security posture.

What Is IoT Security?

IoT cybersecurity combines strategies, technologies, and methods for solving security challenges and protecting an organisation’s IoT devices, which consist of all non-standard computing hardware. Examples of IoT devices include sensors or applications that connect wirelessly to a network and transmit data. Think of an MRI machine at a hospital, a device that tracks inventory in a warehouse, or a sensor managing an assembly line at a manufacturing plant. All these devices connect back to an endpoint — be it a laptop, tablet, or desktop — and those endpoints then transmit the data throughout the network.

This interconnectedness, as well as the value of both the data and the continued function of these devices, make them a large target for threat actors. As digitisation leads to increased adoption, IoT security has become paramount for organisations across industries and at all levels of security maturity.

IoT security can take several forms. It can involve performing full vulnerability assessments on legacy endpoints connected to IoT devices, investing in new technology or new endpoints, or even employing third-party monitoring of IoT devices and utilising the data to make real-time security decisions. However, achieving robust IoT security is an ongoing process that can be difficult for many organisations to achieve.

Common Threats to IoT Security

Without robust security, any connected device is vulnerable to exploitation or breach by a threat actor. The increase of IoT devices expands an organisation’s attack surface, and whether as an initial access point or during the execution of a ransomware attack, IoT devices can become a major piece of a threat actor’s plans.

Threats to IoT security and IoT devices include:

  • Firmware exploitations
  • Vulnerability exploitations on endpoints connected to IoT devices
  • Ransomware attacks
  • Unsecured hardware
  • Lack of asset management
  • Lack of visibility into the environment
  • IoT specific malware
  • Network attacks
  • Lack of/unauthorized access to both endpoints and connected IoT devices

That is just a small sample of the threats IoT devices face. If it’s a part of an organisation’s attack surface, it’s susceptible to the tactics of threat actors. Ransomware is a rising threat across industries, but it was the healthcare industry, who rely heavily on IoT devices, that was represented most in Arctic Wolf® Incident Response ransomware engagements in 2023. Additionally, the median ransom for energy and natural resources, another IoT-heavy sector, was the highest among industries at $2 million USD.

A 2024 report from Forrester revealed that 34% of organizations that fell victim to a breach via IoT devices faced higher cumulative breach costs than cyber attacks on non-IoT devices, with costs ranging between $5 million and $10 million USD, and the number of attacks on IoT devices globally is rapidly accelerating. According to Zscaler’s 2023 Enterprise IoT and OT Threat Report, malware attacks on IoT devices increased 400% over the previous year. And organisations that rely heavily on these devices often have little tolerance for downtime, making them prime targets for a ransomware attack.

This threat isn’t hypothetical, according to the Arctic Wolf State of Cybersecurity: 2024 Trends Report, 56% of manufacturing organisations suffered a breach in the last 12 months. That’s followed by 41% of energy/utilities organizations and 39% of healthcare organisations – all IoT heavy industries. Those were also the three industries with the highest percentage of breaches, according to the report.

Due to the growing number of successful attacks on IoT devices and the corresponding costs to enterprises to recover from these attacks, organisations need to consider IoT security with the same enthusiasm and care they consider adding IoT devices to their network.

Five IoT Cybersecurity Best Practices

1. Implement Network Segmentation

One of the most effective countermeasures to the vast spectrum of IoT threats is network segmentation. This process involves dividing the network into multiple segments, typically for improved performance and enhanced security. Segmentation serves a variety of network control and security purposes. It optimises and boosts network performance, prevents unauthorized users from accessing specific network-connected resources like databases and applications, and enables a zero trust approach to security by creating micro-perimeters around critical resources. Segmentation also makes it more difficult for outsiders to penetrate your network via an unsecured IoT device — and it shields sensitive data from overly curious insiders.

2. Conduct Infrastructure Patching

The danger of unpatched endpoints is well understood, as each year the volume of known vulnerabilities increases, and new zero day exploits wreak havoc across industries. Legacy devices, often used in the manufacturing space, can contain outdated software — even simple software like the Windows version it runs — that can turn into a pathway for a savvy bad actor. Exploiting a vulnerability connected to medical devices not only allows a ransomware gang major leverage when asking for ransom but can have serious real-world consequences if, for instance, a health organisation must pause operations. Including IoT devices, and connected endpoints, in a robust risk-based vulnerability management program can be a major security upgrade for many organisations, especially considering that, while it still takes resources, vulnerability patching is a cost-effective security solution for legacy endpoints.

3. Employ Proper Identity and Access Controls

IoT devices don’t exist in a vacuum. They are managed by humans, sometimes remotely, so managing the identities connected to these vital devices can be the difference between a hacking attempt and a full-scale breach. Social engineering and credential-based attacks are only rising in popularity and aren’t always used as just an initial access technique. A threat actor could easily gain access to a network through a vulnerability, and then use credential stuffing to gain privileged access escalation, giving them full control of IoT devices and endpoints. Access controls, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), can not only stop these attempts, but will help alert internal security teams to suspicious behaviours, allowing them to respond more effectively to incidents while hardening their environment.

4. Continuously Monitor Workloads, Applications, and Devices

Because IoT devices often operate in the background, it can be easy for IT departments to ignore them and assume they are functioning normally. That complacency can cause issues, as you can’t protect what you don’t see. Just look at Arctic Wolf’s data from the Trends Report mentioned above — 67% of organisations who suffered a breach in the last 12 months weren’t monitoring their environment at the network level. For businesses employing several IoT devices, network-level traffic provides vital security and operational data.

Employing 24×7 monitoring not only increases visibility into and across aspects of the environment — highlighting how IoT devices are interacting with other parts of a network — but can alert security teams to unusual behaviour or indicators of compromise. Once attackers compromise a system, typically only a small window exists to prevent their lateral movement. The breakout time —the time it takes for an attacker to move to additional systems and potentially initiate data exfiltration after a breach — is surprisingly short. That monitoring can make a big impact in terms of incident response, as well as helping security teams identify security areas that may need improvement.

5. Invest in a Security Operations Solution for Scalable, Comprehensive Protection

It’s not news that managing complex IT environments internally is difficult and costly. For many, SIEM implementation is an option, but that takes expertise to maintain consistent fine-tuning, and if you’re an organisation that has a myriad of IoT devices, it can all become overwhelming. Utilising a security operations solution, however, offers both cutting-edge technology, and human partnership to not only address security gaps, such as vulnerabilities and lack of access controls, but offers 24×7 monitoring, detection and response, and provides better visibility across the environment for both reactive and proactive security measures.

Arctic Wolf not only provides all the above but has security experience across organisation sizes and industries.

See how Arctic Wolf helps this manufacturing plant secure their devices and network.
Explore how proactive measures, like partner-led vulnerability management, can transform your IoT security.

Picture of Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
Share :
Table of Contents