How to protect the internet of unsecured everything

Last month a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack powered by compromised Internet of Things (IoT) devices managed to take the small African nation of Liberia completely offline.

The incident shows pretty starkly the security problems that can result from the growing number of consumer-managed smart devices in the world.

Closer to home, as these devices appear in ever greater numbers in the workplace, IT departments faces a major security challenge.

Yet many are still hidebound by legacy IT systems that simply can’t manage or control new mobile and cloud-based technologies like this.

The answer is to give visibility and control to the IT service desk, arming teams with a unified set of advanced, automated endpoint tools to manage change and lock down risk from IoT more effectively.

>See also: Forget the Internet of Things for a minute, what about the Security of Things?

Risk is everywhere

No-one can overstate the potential business benefits of IoT devices. On the consumer side smart watches, smart glasses and fitness trackers make for a more productive, motivated and efficient workforce.

It’s no surprise that Gartner is predicting 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use by the end of the year, up 30% from 2015. And that the figure will reach 20.8 billion by 2020.

But the appearance of IoT in the workplace means the number of endpoints IT needs to manage and secure is rising faster than its ability to keep up. And with each endpoint a potential entry point into the network, the risks have never been higher.

Some estimates put the number of reported bugs in 2015 alone at over 16,000. There are likely to be many more in IoT products where security is often an afterthought. And even where patches are made available, users are frequently unaware about the need to update their device firmware.

Some 80% of software flaws are remotely exploitable, meaning hackers anywhere in the world can attack and compromise smart devices over the internet and then move laterally inside the corporate network to where customer data and IP resides.

Then there’s the risk from users downloading unsanctioned apps to their smart device. Third-party app stores are riddled with malware, and it takes just one download on an employee device to allow a hacker into your network.

It’s not just unpatched endpoints that represent a risk either. Device loss and theft has reached epic proportions in the UK. Up to 300,000 smartphones alone are reported stolen each year and you can bet many of them are BYOD handsets.

Ageing systems can’t keep up

Part of the problem for IT teams in managing this situation is that many are stuck with legacy systems built long before the age of mobility, cloud and IoT.

Many organisations still rely on manual processes that are hugely inefficient, or extensive and expensive customisation of systems, to manage their endpoints. This approach is fundamentally broken – legacy IT creates siloes, prevents clear visibility into systems and processes and simply can’t cope with the huge volume of endpoints which must be managed.

What’s more, legacy security tools like AV and firewalls might have been enough a few years ago, but they’re woefully ineffective against the plethora of modern threats facing firms – from ransomware to advanced targeted attacks.

The ICO noted a 22% increase in reported data breach incidents in Q2 versus the previous quarter, while the median dwell time for an attack is now at a massive 146 days. This should tell us all we need to know about the inability of traditional security tools to deal with modern threats.

The resulting data breach or ransomware outage could be devastating – incurring industry fines, legal and remediation costs and reputational damage.

Automate and unify

IT leaders therefore need to look to unified IT service management solutions to automate and simplify IT delivery, removing human error and allowing stretched teams to do more with less.

The service desk sits at the IT frontline so is in the perfect place to provide that visibility into endpoints that modern organisations need. And by arming these teams with unified endpoint management tools you can regain control and minimise risk.

This has to be a layered approach – nothing else can stop the variety of threats facing organisations today. Start with automated patch management covering the multiplicity of different products, versions and software types there may be on your network. And app whitelisting to guard against zero day threats.

>See also: 4 new areas of security vulnerability created by the Internet of Things

Also consider encryption to keep data safe even if it’s on a lost or stolen device. And enterprise mobility management and device control to enforce policies on each and every mobile and removable media device connecting to the network.

Ensure your endpoint management platform has auditing capabilities and hand those over to the service desk, which again is in the best position to monitor compliance and check on risky user behaviour.

Don’t forget, automation of processes like self-service doesn’t just allow stretched IT teams to focus on more critical tasks, it puts more power into the hands of users who, if frustrated, can create extra unwanted risk through shadow IT.

In many ways we’re talking about a new bimodal approach incorporating some of the most progressive aspects of ‘ITSM 2.0’. You’re making processes consistent and repeatable, whilst remaining agile enough to cope with disruptive new tech trends like IoT.

Breaches and security incidents are bound to happen today – there are simply too many threats out there. The key is to be able to detect and respond as quickly as possible, and in so doing to minimise their impact.


Sourced from John Ferron, CEO, HEAT Software

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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Internet of Things