By Dr. Andre Slonopas

IoT Cybersecurity


The relationship between the Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity (or cyber security) has become increasingly pivotal as our interconnected, tech-dependent world continues to blend into everyday life.

From smart home appliances to sophisticated industrial machinery, the proliferation of IoT devices has dramatically transformed how we interact with technology in our daily lives. However, this advancement in technology also creates complex cybersecurity challenges, making the understanding of this relationship crucial for cybersecurity professionals.

Knowing the details of IoT cybersecurity is essential because IoT-connected devices and systems are found everywhere. As a result, cybersecurity breaches can happen anywhere from smart home devices to intricate industrial control systems.


What Is the Internet of Things?

IoT refers to the network of physical objects (“things”) embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that can exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet. These products can range from ordinary household items like smart refrigerators and smart watches to hardware devices and sophisticated industrial tools.

In an intricate ecosystem, IoT solutions and devices are responsible for gathering, transmitting, and storing crucial data. While the interconnected nature of these devices offers convenience to users, it also introduces significant risks such as IoT security breaches. 

Consequently, it is imperative that comprehensive cybersecurity measures are in place to protect data, networks, and devices from ever-evolving digital threats. These security measures should work in tandem with stringent cybersecurity procedures and IoT security standards, ensuring that IoT frameworks are safeguarded against cyberattacks and fortified with effective security solutions.


What Are the Parts of an IoT Device?

An IoT device is typically composed of several key parts that enable its functionality and connectivity.

First, sensors play a critical role in collecting data from the device's environment, ranging from temperature readings to motion detection. These sensors are connected to a microcontroller or processor that processes and interprets the data.

Second, IoT devices are equipped with network interfaces (like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, for instance) to provide an internet connection. These communication technologies allow a smart device to transmit data to and from cloud servers or other devices.

Third, the smart device has built-in software. The software provides the necessary instructions for operation and often includes security features to protect against unauthorized user access.

Fourth, many IoT devices have an actuator component, which can perform actions or control a system based on the processed data. Together, these parts allow IoT devices to autonomously collect, process, and act on data.


The Challenges of IoT Cybersecurity

IoT ecosystems present distinct challenges to the complex and rapidly evolving field of IoT cybersecurity. For example, the features of IoT security differ from conventional cybersecurity in various ways, posing unique challenges for ensuring the comprehensive protection of interconnected devices and networks.

As the deployment of IoT devices becomes more prevalent, it escalates the cybersecurity threats faced by sectors like utility companies and personal health device manufacturers.

The sheer number, variety, and complexity of IoT devices, each with its own capabilities, creates a vast network that is difficult to protect. Here are several of the largest challenges to IoT security.


Service Disruption

Hackers can gain access to and damage computer-controlled systems. For instance, attackers can alter the function of computer systems in such a way that it renders a critical service – like a power-generating dam, water system, or database – entirely inaccessible. Similarly, an entire network can be affected by attackers.


Data Theft

Attackers can obtain unauthorized access to personally identifiable information (PII), including sensitive information such as:

  • Names
  • User accounts
  • Social Security numbers
  • National health ID numbers
  • Phone numbers
  • Home addresses

There is a growing concern among both organizations and individuals regarding how this type of personal information can be potentially exploited by attackers. For organizations, a strong security posture is necessary to protect consumers and the organization's brand reputation from devastating data breaches.


Data or Service Interruption

A skilled attacker can obtain access and alter a smart device's settings at will. That type of attack can lead to severe consequences such as a loss of life, disruption of a vital service, harm to the smart device, or even damage to other connected devices.

For example, imagine that a hacker controls an IoT device such as the smart lock on the front door of a house. If the lock becomes inoperable due to a cyberattack, that presents a safety risk to the occupants of the house.


Legacy Device Integration

Incorporating legacy devices (such as older smart speakers and smartphones) not initially designed with modern security standards also increases IoT security threats. The disparity in security measures between older and newer devices creates additional security problems across the IoT network. Due to the decentralized nature of IoT installations, a breach in a single smart device could potentially allow attackers to compromise an entire system.

To protect IoT systems, both devices and infrastructure should be properly secured. Often, it is necessary to update passwords, encrypt data, and implement advanced security measures across the entire IoT network, not just one device.

To improve IoT deployment security, organizations need to stress the necessity of cooperation between manufacturers, cybersecurity specialists, and consumers. This collaboration is crucial to keeping up with advances in the IT field and building secure IoT ecosystems that protect against cyber attacks.


Smart Devices and IoT Systems Are in Many Areas of Our Society

IoT-connected devices and systems have appeared everywhere in the IoT ecosystem, including healthcare, transportation, fitness, and households. Each industry uses IoT to improve operational efficiency, user experience, and data-driven decision-making.


Devices in Healthcare

Healthcare has been transformed by IoT remote monitoring and wearable health monitors. With wearable devices, real-time health monitoring saves consumers from expensive hospital visits and speeds their medical treatment.

But at the same time, the integration of intelligent, wearable devices in healthcare causes significant cybersecurity issues. Health data is essential and a tempting target for attackers.


Smart Vehicles in Transportation

Many of today’s vehicles use electronic systems for navigation, safety, and entertainment. These types of vehicles are more vulnerable to security problems since those electronic systems are vulnerable to hackers. As a result, they must have stringent security controls to prevent unauthorized user access and keep systems running normally.


Wearable IoT Technology in Fitness

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are wearable devices connected to the IoT system. They function by tracking health metrics and physical activities.

However, the security problems associated with these devices cannot be overlooked. These IoT wearables must safeguard the data they collect and restrict unauthorized access.


Smart Appliances in Households

Smart homes contain products like IoT thermostats and fridges, which enhance energy efficiency and user satisfaction. However, these convenient products – as well as smartphones connected to mobile networks – also come with security issues; breaches in them can expose sensitive data to attackers.


IoT Security: Safeguarding Systems

Protecting the interconnected systems of IoT demands a multifaceted approach to security vulnerabilities and system safety. Security in the IoT space must improve as IoT deployments get more complex and computing power rises.

Advancements in “smart” network security are central to effective IoT cyber security. By encrypting sensitive information both during transmission and in storage, these systems can better shield against unauthorized access. Additionally, continually addressing vulnerabilities through timely security updates and patches is essential to maintain robust protection in the ever-changing IoT environment.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms have the potential to significantly improve IoT cyber security. By analyzing vast amounts of network data in real time, these technologies can identify and mitigate security gaps and help organizations to implement more proactive cybersecurity measures in a constantly evolving digital landscape.

The advent of 5G technology is also a game-changer for IoT deployments, offering faster speeds and reduced latency that enhance data transfer and communication within IoT networks. However, these improvements also introduce heightened security risks. The increased bandwidth and expanded device connectivity that 5G provides necessitate stronger security protocols to thwart unauthorized access and maintain the integrity of the network.


The Role of Higher Education in IoT Cybersecurity

Higher education plays a crucial role in IoT cybersecurity, necessitating a comprehensive approach to educational programs. Higher education programs should emphasize robust security measures to prevent breaches and cover various topics related to IoT cybersecurity. Key topics that a cybersecurity program should cover include:

  • Intrusion detection systems
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • ML for predictive security
  • The risks of keeping default settings and default passwords in IoT devices
  • The challenges in safeguarding an entire IoT ecosystem, which encompasses everything from cloud services to legacy devices

It's essential for cybersecurity educational programs to equip students with specific knowledge and abilities tailored to the evolving landscape of IoT cybersecurity. Higher education institutions can prepare students to create safer cybersecurity strategies by covering the intricacies of developing technologies and their associated vulnerabilities. 

This preparation is vital for overcoming system weaknesses and effectively implementing security measures. The curriculum should address the vulnerabilities in IoT applications pertinent to various sectors, teaching students how to fortify these systems against potential cyberattacks.


Navigating the Challenges of IoT Cybersecurity at APU

As networking capabilities continue to rise and more people use smart technology in their everyday lives, cyber security problems are expected to increase in the foreseeable future. It is crucial for businesses, IoT manufacturers, and higher education providers to collaborate to improve network security and safeguard data storage servers.

Educational and research institutions like American Public University (APU) are essential in this fast-changing world. APU leads cybersecurity education and research, training its students to acquire new cybersecurity skills.

Ideally, all of us must cooperate to safeguard our digital future. Organizations and individuals must follow cybersecurity best practices. Protecting our digital fingerprints requires staying abreast of emerging technologies and the resulting security risks, being proactive against cyberattacks, and understanding how to fight both internal and external threats.


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About the Author
Dr. Andre Slonopas
Dr. Andre Slonopas is an Assistant Department Chair in the Department of Strategic Intelligence. From the University of Virginia, he holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering, a M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a plethora of relevant certifications, including Certified Information Security Manager (CISM®), Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) and Project Management Professional (PMP®).

CISM is a registered trademark of Information Systems Audit and Control Association, Inc.
CISSP is a registered trademark of International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.
PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.