Implementing IoT securely in your company – Part 3

February 2, 2017

This is Part 3 of the series implementing IoT securely in your company, click here for part 1 and here for part 2. As it is quite common that new IoT devices are ordered and also maintained by the appropriate department and not by the IT department, it is important that there is a policy in place.

This policy is specially important in this case as most non IT departments don’t think about IT security and maintaining the system. They are often used to think about buying a device and it will run for years and often even longer, without doing much. We on the other hand in the IT know that the buying part is the easy part, maintaining it is the hard one.

Extend existing security policies

Most companies won’t need to start from scratch, as they most likely have policies for common stuff like passwords, patching and monitoring. The problem here is the scope of the policies and that you’re current able to technically enforce many of them:

  • Most passwords are typically maintained by an identity management system and the password policy is therefore enforced for the whole company. The service/admin passwords are typically configured and used by members of the IT department. For IoT devices that maybe not true as the devices are managed by the using department and technically enforcing it may not be possible.
  • Patching of the software is typically centrally done by the IT department, be it the client or server team. But who is responsible for updating the IoT devices? Who monitors that updates are really done? How does he monitor that? What happens if a department does not update their devices? What happens if a vendor stops providing security updates for a given device?
  • Centrally by the IT department provided services are generally monitored by the IT department. Is the IT department responsible for monitoring the IoT devices?  Who is responsible for looking into the problem?

You should look at this and write it down as a policy which is accepted by the other departments before deploying IoT devices. In the beginning they will say yes sure we’ll update the devices regularly and replace the devices before the vendors stops providing security updates – and often can’t remember it some years later.

Typical IoT device problems

Beside extending the policies to cover IoT devices it’s also important to check the policies if the fit the IoT space and cover typical problems. I’ll list some of them here, which I’ve seen done wrong in the past. Sure some of them also apply for normal IT server/services but are maybe consider so basically that everyone just does it right, that it is maybe not covered by your policy.

  • No Update is possible
    Yes, there are devices out in the wild that can’t be updated. What does your policy say?
  • Default Logins
    Many IoT devices come with a default login and as the management of the devices is done via a central (cloud) management system, it is often forgotten that the devices may have also a administration interface.What does your policy say?
  • Recover from IoT device loss
    Let’s assume that an attacker is able to get into one IoT device or that the IoT device gets stole. Is the same password used on the server? Do all devices use the same password? Will the IT department get informed at all? What does your policy say?
  • Naming and organizing things
    For IT devices it’s clear that we use the DNS structure – works for servers, switches, pc’s. Make sure that the same gets used for IoT device. What does your policy say?
  • Replacing IoT devices
    Think about > 100 IoT devices running for 4 years and now some break down, and the the devices are end of sales. Can you connect new models to the old ones?  does someone keep spare parts?  What does your policy say?
  • Self signed certificates
    If the system/devices uses TLS (e.g. HTTPS) it needs to be able to use your internal PKI certificates. Self signed certificates are basically the same as unencrypted traffic. What does your policy say?
  • Disable unused services
    IoT enable often all services by default, like I had a device providing a FTP and telnet server – but for administration only HTTP was ever used. What does your policy say?

I hope that article series helps you to implement IoT devices somewhat securely.


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