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December 22, 2023

Foundations of IoT Sensing-as-a-Service Cybersecurity

Written by SmartSense | Data, Artificial Intelligence, Innovation

The rise of Sensing-as-a-Service solutions has revolutionized the intersection of technology and business ecosystems. By leveraging IoT-enabled smart devices and sensors, leading businesses —from grocers and food service retailers to pharmacies and healthcare organizations — can now convert telemetry data into actionable insights faster than ever before, thereby driving higher levels of operational efficiency based on data-driven decisions.

Unsurprisingly, by 2028, the value of the global IoT market is expected to reach $1.8 billion. Regrettably, this upsurge has also led to a greater risk of IoT cyber-attacks and data breaches. Gartner forecasts that 20% of organizations leveraging IoT have detected a security incident over the past three years. Furthermore, IBM’s annual Cost of a Data Breach Report found that businesses lost a record-high $9.4 million per breach in 2022.

To mitigate these IoT cybersecurity risks, it’s essential that connected IoT devices are implemented safely by updating software regularly, adopting a zero-trust methodology, and protecting sensitive data with encryption and passwords. Enterprises adopting IoT at scale must strategize to alleviate cyber risk in order to achieve high levels of ROI.

The Drawbacks of Poor IoT Cybersecurity

Failure to implement suitable IoT cybersecurity measures can result in the breach of personal and financial information, regulatory penalties, and damage to brand reputation. Reduced brand loyalty is particularly crucial in today’s competitive market.

Why? The ripple effects of inflation coupled with global supply chain disruptions have shifted the paradigm for consumer satisfaction. For example, McKinsey has reported that nearly 75% of U.S. consumers switched brands since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specific to cybersecurity concerns, according to Mimecast’s State of Brand Protection Report, more than 60% of consumers lose trust in their favorite brand if it leaks personal information. The margin for customer relationship error is therefore exceedingly thin.

Make IoT Cybersecurity a Priority

By prioritizing IoT cybersecurity, organizations can ensure the safe and responsible use of connected devices and protect themselves from the negative consequences of a major breach or cyber-attack. Implementing a truly cybersecure Sensing-as-a-Service solution requires implementing an action plan: Focus: Nurture an organizational culture dedicated to preventing cybersecurity risk to systems, data, and people. Protect: Implement safeguards to ensure delivery of critical services. Detect: Design procedures to identify the occurrence of a cybersecurity event. Respond: Manage activities to proactively respond to a detected cybersecurity incident. Recover: Restore capabilities and services impaired by a cybersecurity incident.

Implement a Zero Trust Framework & AI Machine Learning

A comprehensive Sensing-as-a-Service cybersecurity plan should also adopt a data-centric Zero Trust framework. This approach focuses on the protection of IoT data assets stored inside the network and simplifies key complexities of data management, protection, storage, and compliance. Because IoT sensors are typically placed outside the traditional IT perimeter and send data to an organization’s core platform, data-centric zero trust principles help ensure that end-to-end exchange remains secure.

AI and machine learning security tools are another crucial component to cybersecurity. Amid widespread talent shortages coupled with increasingly complex, hybrid work environments, these tools are critical to boosting cyber defenses. By streamlining routine tasks, improving the accuracy of threat detection and prevention, and reducing the rate of human error, automation is now a necessary security asset.

Which Is Better for Cybersecurity? Wi-Fi vs. Cellular

Cellular tower in rural, forest area

Cellular and Wi-Fi may seem like comparable communication networks at first look. But at a deeper dive, their design meets completely different needs, given that they were built for different purposes. Regarding cybersecurity in particular, cellular communication is generally considered more secure than Wi-Fi. Here’s why.

Dedicated Networks & Infrastructure

A cellular network is managed and maintained by a mobile network operator. Which means the network is dedicated: that is, intended specifically for cellular communication.

Cellular networks are secure. Their cell towers and exterior infrastructure are located in safe locations. Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, are accessible to anyone within range of the network, which is often shared with other users and devices, thereby making them more vulnerable to attacks. 

Greater Reliability

Security and reliability go hand in hand. If any user can break into a network, that obviously compromises reliability.

Cellular includes built-in fault-tolerance and relies on redundant cell towers that overlap in coverage. In short, if a tower goes down, other towers will pick up the signal.

True, Wi-Fi can be configured for redundancy, but it’s a complicated process. Wi-Fi requires the operator to invest in a redundant power supply, Internet connection, and a router, among other miscellaneous technology. The bottom line: with Wi-Fi, you pay more for a less reliable network.

Mandatory Authorization

Cellular networks use a variety of methods to ensure that only authorized devices can access the network. These protocols help protect against eavesdropping, data interception, and manipulator-in-the-middle attacks.

Cell towers are physically protected — either constructed on tall buildings or gated off and monitored with surveillance. Furthermore, only authorized and identified carriers and users can communicate on cellular networks. These multiple layers of protection, both physical and electronic, create an infrastructure built for maximum scale, security, and reliability.

Although Wi-Fi modems and routers can be purchased and set up quickly, this so called “flexibility” creates an attack vector for spoofing attacks. For example, if a Wi-Fi network is named “XYZ 1,” it’s quite easy for attackers to configure their routers and create a SSID with an identical name.

Robust Encryption 

Cellular networks use a strong form of encryption to protect data as it travels between the mobile device and the network. Encryption scrambles the data so that it cannot be intercepted and read by unauthorized users.

Wi-Fi networks also use encryption, but its security protocols are generally less robust. Also, Wi-Fi encryption depends on a human operator to turn it on, whereas cellular encryption is enabled by default.

Matching the Proper Solution with the Right Use Case 

Although the lower cost of Wi-Fi may be attractive to smaller organizations, it’s not necessarily the right approach.  Wi-Fi could be a realistic choice for businesses educated about the pros and cons of adding an IoT framework on top of their existing infrastructure. Keep in mind, however, that a high level of investment in Wi-Fi rarely gets priority or funding.

Also on the downside, companies that adopt Wi-Fi for their IoT systems ultimately must deal with overcrowded network channels, blocked gateways, and messaging apps and assets fighting for bandwidth. Deploying a massive IoT platform with 100+ devices that communicate every few minutes on top of a consumer-grade framework like Wi-Fi is not impossible. But it’s also not reliable risk mitigation.

IoT best practice tells us that organizations use Wi-Fi and cellular for what they best accomplish. Wi-Fi networks help people browse websites. When it comes to choosing a backbone for an IoT cybersecurity system, cellular is better for optimal reliability and coverage.

As the widespread adoption of IoT connectivity continues to intensify in the years to come, implementing best practices within a robust security architecture will be non-negotiable. The safety of an IoT connectivity architecture can make or break an organization’s ability to capitalize on its full value.

However, with 15 billion connected devices, we understand that choosing a solution may seem a bit confusing. To help you make a decision that’s right for your organization, please listen to this IoT For All Podcast. Gil Dror, Chief Technology Officer at SmartSense by Digi, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss what you need to know about IoT Sensing-as-a-Service cybersecurity.

 

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