Top IoT Security Challenges and How to Deal with Them

Cover image by studiocat

Top IoT Security Challenges and How to Deal with Them

Nikita Ivashchenko

Nikita Ivashchenko

Rockstar Copywriter @ Stormotion

In the age of technologies alongside with the development of IoT devices and softwares there lies a parallel development of malwares and security intruders. When it comes to the IoT deployment, it is vital for your projects to ensure consumer IoT security by protecting the important information from third-parties. In this article, we will take a closer look at the IoT security challenges that you should be aware of, as well as talk about possible solutions on a project development stage.

Internet of things security measures are mostly managed by regular software updates to keep the IoT consumers protected from various vulnerabilities (*image by [studiocat](https://dribbble.com/studiokat){ rel="nofollow" target="_blank" .default-md}*)

Internet of things security measures are mostly managed by regular software updates to keep the IoT consumers protected from various vulnerabilities (image by studiocat)

❔ Identification of IoT devices

With the rapid development of the IoT devices, there always come identification issues — it’s sometimes hard to tell whether the device is malicious or “friendly”. To differentiate them from one another, a proper identification system should be implemented.

In the IoT ecosystem, there are basically two classes: identifiers and entities to be identified. The main point of setting up a proper identification stage always comes to securing the identifier, not the entity. The whole IoT security depends on whether the identifier is trustworthy enough and not messed with by third-parties. Thus, to make identification safe, we need to choose the most protected system that can stand as “identifier” and disallow unsecured devices connected.

Solution

As of now, one of the most effective IoT device identification technologies is a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) with the use of digital certificates.

According to Global PKI and IoT trends study, the average number of certificates has already increased by 50% since 2019 and is going to prosper even more in the near future. It follows that the PKI technology is not a short-lived interest, but vice versa — a forward-looking trend with great potential.

Public Key Infrastructure is a technology that ensures the security behind the connection as well as allows to identify and then authenticate both user and device.

PKI components that make the system work:

  • Certificate Authorities (CA). CA is a key player in making PKI secure and dependable. In a nutshell, CAs are verifying connection attempts and issuing certificates after the identity validation is done. The validation step is essential so that there is no possibility for cybercriminals to impersonate any trustworthy party to access the data.
  • Digital Certificates. Digital certificate is an electronic password or a file that aims to prove the authenticity of a device.
  • Digital Signatures. Digital signature is a security method to protect the integrity of provided data, making it impossible to mess with without notifying the recipient.
  • Chain of Trust. Chain of trust is a security system that allows to validate the certificate by chaining back to the CA’s root certificate. If a chain of trust is able to trace the certificate back all the way to the valid root certificate — the connection will be trusted and secure.
  • Encryption keys. Keys are paired elements that help encrypting and decrypting information as another step for granting the security of data flow.

PKI system overview

As we got acquainted with the gears of the PKI mechanism, let’s take a look at how they function together and complete the system:

  1. Before issuing a certificate, the CA validates the server and decides whether the connection will be secure.
  2. After the CA validation, now it's the user's turn to verify the server’s certificate with the chain of trust’s assistance.
  3. If the first two steps proceed without any issues, the data is encrypted with the “public key”.
  4. With the use of a “private” key on the other side of the connection the data is decrypted.

☑️ IoT Device Authentication

Most of the IoT devices are presented with a minimized amount of unnecessary information and narrower storage limits. Their main goal is to focus exclusively on gathering and transferring sensitive data from different sources in a nick of time. Exactly because such vulnerable devices aren't able to quickly counteract to the malicious intents, they are prone to various cyberintruders.

Solution

As the resources in device’s possession are limited, the authentication should be easier than, for example, the process of authenticating a user. To make this process fitting the case, it’s important to determine the suitable authentication model. Two most common models for securing an authenticating stage of an IoT device are:

  • Shared Secret Authentication (Symmetric Cryptosystem)
  • Public Key Authentication (Asymmetric Cryptosystem)

Let’s take a closer look at them!

Shared Secret Authentication (SSA)

The point of SSA is to securely share the data — in cryptography “shared secret” — after establishing communication as it’s done in common symmetric cryptosystems. The most common authentication method for this case is a challenge-response one. Challenge-response method supposes the party that needs to be authenticated to provide a correct “response” to another party’s “challenge”.

The most common way for authenticating IoT devices in the SSA model is a challenge-response method with the password input (*image by [Oleksandr Mosiichuk](https://dribbble.com/Woters){ rel="nofollow" target="_blank" .default-md}*)

The most common way for authenticating IoT devices in the SSA model is a challenge-response method with the password input (image by Oleksandr Mosiichuk)

For example, the simplest type of such authentication is a well-known password authentication. The “challenge” is a party’s password request and the valid “response” is simply a correct password input. However, to call this authentication model safe, you should make sure that there are no intruders between the two communicating parties trying to snatch a valid response for their needs.

Public Key Authentication (PKA)

This model for authenticating IoT devices is also using the public key infrastructure, described in the identification issue of the article. Thus, being an asymmetric model, PKA technology grants a much higher Internet of Things security and data integrity level. However, as authentication becomes more complex, it requires more processing time, which may not be suitable when it comes to prioritizing the operation speed.

🔐 Encryption

The basis of the IoT structures is constant data flow between the connected devices. So, when it comes to securing the data flow, the top priorities are:

  • Saving the data integrity. Make sure that any third party can’t hold disinformation operations in your IoT systems.
  • Keeping it confidential. Grant restricted access to the data exclusively for personnel that are supposed to receive it to avoid data breaches.

So, to solve this challenge, we need to find something that satisfies both of these requirements.

Solution

Both of these data security priorities can be managed by the implementation of data encryption and decryption. There are two types of encryption systems existing:

  • Symmetric — both encrypting and decrypting require one single cryptographic key.
  • Asymmetric — both operations require several cryptographic keys: a “public” key for encryption and a “private” one for decryption.

As symmetric systems are much simpler, their main advantage is a high speed data encryption. Asymmetric ones focus on security, and, thus, authentication is required.

Let’s take a look at the algorithms of encryption that are used in IoT:

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES

AES is the most commonly used algorithm for encrypting data worldwide. This symmetric encryption standard is often used in 128-, 192- or 256-bit form and is known for its high resistance to IoT attacks and malicious intrusions.

Rivest-Shamir-Adleman Algorithm (RSA)

The RSA algorithm is known as the most common asymmetric encryption method in the world. The main advantage of this algorithm is high scalability when it comes to encryption key lengths. Even in case short encryption keys are brute-forced, it’s always possible to encrypt the data with the longer ones to make brute-forcing incredibly difficult.

Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA)

The DSA is another representative of asymmetric encryption.It’s always compared to the RSA in terms of strength. Instead of encrypting messages with private keys and decrypting them with public ones, DSA creates two 160-bit numbers for a digital signature based on the message and the private key. DSA and RSA in comparison are balancing each other: the first one is faster when it comes to verification and decryption, and the second one’s main focus is encryption and signing.

Blowfish

This algorithm is a symmetric encryption system that is still relevant for being free for use, as it is placed in public domain. Blowfish does not encrypt the whole message at once, the encryption is done after splitting the message into 64-bit blocks and is processed individually for each block. A variable key length stays between 32 and 448 bits.

🗂️ Heterogeneity of Connected Devices

Heterogeneity is one of the most notable security challenges in the IoT sphere. As the variety of IoT devices and possible security issues are uncountable, it’s nearly impossible to predict and outplay every single cyberintrusion in each unique case.

The problem here is that every IoT device has its own security solutions and needs to be treated individually when it comes to dealing with a particular challenge. Exactly the need of individual approach makes this security challenge so important to consider, as it’s definitely not a cakewalk to secure each unique device from all the variety of IoT vulnerabilities.

Solution

To deal with the heterogeneity issue it’s recommended to use IDRA architecture for wireless sensor networks. The IDRA creates, stores and manages packet interactions of the network services. In a nutshell, in heterogeneous IoT systems the same node can contain various types of packets. The IDRA uses a large number of descriptors to interpret incoming packets of any possible type to create a secure connection between diverse IoT devices. As for selecting types of outgoing packets, the IDRA indicates both MAC and routing protocols for the required packet type and automatically sends the packet using the correct MAC protocol.

IDRA architecture is created for setting up connections between heterogeneous IoT devices regardless of their protocol type (*image by [Dighital](https://dribbble.com/Dighital){ rel="nofollow" target="_blank" .default-md}*)

IDRA architecture is created for setting up connections between heterogeneous IoT devices regardless of their protocol type (image by Dighital)

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of implementing IDRA architecture for IoT devices:

  1. IDRA doesn't require a big amount of resources and is backwards compatible.
  2. IDRA is capable of determining the type of incoming packet as well as dropping the packets that are unrecognized by the architecture.
  3. IDRA is able to create connections without using any gateway.
  4. IDRA architecture supports communication regardless of the use of different MAC protocols among the connected devices from various device manufacturers.

💡 Takeaways

In conclusion, we should point out the main security risks in IoT once again. So, to create a trustworthy product and ensure the highest security level possible, it is vital not to overlook the issues of:

  1. Identification
  2. Authentication
  3. Encryption
  4. Heterogeneity

Fortunately, the first two security issues can be managed by integrating a single technology called Public Key Infrastructure. Heterogeneity issue is recommended to handle with the implementation of IDRA architecture for supporting as many various IoT devices as possible. As for encryption it is better to choose the specific security algorithm which is the most suitable for the project, based on the development priorities.

If you have any questions or need help with creating a secure IoT project, let us know. We will be happy to help you meet your business needs with an outstanding product!

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