• The Internet of Things is a rising tide presenting major cybersecurity challenges.
     The Internet of Things is a rising tide presenting major cybersecurity challenges.

Fortify Networks Now Against the Coming Internet of Things Tsunami

The Cyber Edge
August 22, 2017
By Joe Kim

Agencies should not wait on IoT security.

The U.S. Defense Department is diving in and investing heavily to leverage the benefits provided by the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) environment.

With federal IoT spending already hitting nearly $9 billion in fiscal year 2015, according to research firm Govini, it’s a fair bet that IoT spending will continue to increase, particularly considering the department’s focus on arming warfighters with innovative and powerful technologies.

Amid the fanfare however, security risks exist that must not be overlooked. An increase in connected devices leads to a larger and more vulnerable attack surface offering a greater number of entry points for bad actors to exploit.

The IoT presents a case of been there, done that. A few years ago, iPhone and Android devices were the harbingers of ushering in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) era. While the BYOD wave might have been good prep for a connected future, the IoT ecosystem will make managing smartphones and tablets seem like child’s play. To quote my colleague Patrick Hubbard: “IoT is a slowly rising tide that will eventually make IoT accommodation strategies pretty quaint.” That’s because we no longer are talking about a handful of standard operating systems, but potentially many more proprietary operating systems that will need to be managed individually.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has acknowledged the problems that the IoT presents and the narrow yet closing window of opportunity to address security challenges, Robert Silvers, DHS assistant secretary for cyber policy, has said. Furthermore, the Defense Department is making significant strides to fortify the government’s IoT deployments. In addition to the Defense Department’s overall significant investment in wireless devices, sensors and cloud storage, the National Institute for Standards and Technology has issued an IoT model designed to provide researchers with a better understanding of the ecosystem and its security challenges.

Even with nearly $9 billion in expenditures, and growing, the government IoT market remains very much in its nascent stage. While agencies might understand its promise and potential, the true security ramifications must still be examined. One thing’s for certain: Agency IT administrators must fortify their networks now against the incoming IoT tsunami.

A good first step toward meeting the security challenges is through user device tracking, which lets administrators closely monitor devices and block rogue or unauthorized devices that could compromise security. With this strategy, administrators can track endpoint devices by message authentication code and Internet protocol addresses, and trace them to individual users.

In addition to tracking the devices themselves, administrators also must identify effective ways to upgrade the firmware on approved devices, which can be an enormous challenge. In government, many firmware updates are still done through a manual process. Some might be automated, but potentially lack the control level to secure devices.

Simultaneously, networks eventually must be able to self-heal and remediate security issues within minutes instead of days, significantly reducing the damage hackers can unleash. The National Security Agency, the DHS and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have been working on initiatives, some of which are well underway. 

While the challenges of updates and remediation are being addressed, administrators must devise an effective safety net to catch unwanted intrusions. That’s where log and event management come into play. Systems automatically can scan for suspicious activity and actively respond to potential threats by blocking Internet protocol addresses, disabling users and barring devices from accessing an agency’s network. Log and event management provide other benefits, including insider threat detection and real-time event remediation.

Regardless of its various security challenges, the IoT has great promise for the Defense Department. The various connections, from warfighters’ uniforms to tanks and major weapons systems, will provide invaluable data for more effective modern warfare.

Joe Kim is senior vice president and global chief technology officer for SolarWinds, a company that creates and markets network management software.

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