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/ What Is IoT Security?

What Is IoT Security?

IoT security is all the measures and technologies in place to protect internet of things devices (connected devices like cameras, ATMs, and printers) and the networks they use. Despite their growing footprint in organizations worldwide, many IoT devices are designed with little regard for cybersecurity, and the resulting vulnerabilities can turn them into significant security risks.

What Is an IoT Device?

An IoT device is any device that connects to the internet and can collect and transmit data. This includes a huge array of industrial machines, sensors, smart devices, and more, with broad applications across industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and retail. IoT devices help organizations collect and synthesize data, drive efficiencies through automation and time-saving measures, and perform remote monitoring and operations.

Internet of Things Pros and Cons

IoT devices can offer various benefits to any organization, including:

  • Real-time data and insights: By collecting and analyzing real-time data, IoT devices can help organizations make informed decisions.
  • Increased efficiency and productivity: Automated gathering and processing of data frees up employees to focus on getting other important things done.
  • Lower costs and revenue: Enabling stronger decision-making, time savings, and productivity gains can help reduce spending and improve returns.

IoT also comes with some concerns in a business context, however, such as:

  • Security and privacy risks: Many IoT devices have poor out-of-the-box security and can be difficult to secure and update by other means, yet they process and store a great deal of data.
  • Poor standardization: IoT devices use a wide variety of protocols, operating systems, code languages, and hardware, which can complicate security as well as compatibility with other systems.
  • Visibility challenges: A significant portion of IoT devices on a network may be unknown to the IT team—a problem known as shadow IT. Discovering these devices can be difficult if an organization lacks effective monitoring.

While enjoying the many benefits of IoT, any organization must also understand the added security risks and the best ways to shore up their defenses.

Why Is IoT Security Important?

IoT devices are making their way onto corporate networks in droves, widening organizations’ attack surfaces. Many of these devices are completely off the radar for IT teams. At the same time, hackers are taking advantage of new attack vectors to launch aggressive and creative new cyberattacks.

Even with hybrid work leaving many offices less crowded today, many IoT devices stay connected to the network all the time. Digital signage, networked printers, and more continue refreshing data, performing functions, and awaiting commands, leaving them open to compromise.

For many organizations, IoT security and policy are still immature. Fortunately, by implementing an effective zero trust architecture and policies, any organization can improve its IoT security posture.

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2023 will see a projected 19 billion IoT devices worldwide, with another 2 billion each year through 2030, according to Statista

Which Industries Need IoT Security?

Simply put, any organization that uses IoT systems should invest in IoT security solutions. Naturally, those that make the most use of internet-connected technologies are at the greatest risk of attack. Accordingly, our research has found that the Technology, Manufacturing, Retail and Wholesale, and Healthcare industries account for as much as 98% of IoT attack victims.



How Does IoT Security Work?

Maintaining a secure IoT ecosystem requires accounting for the security of the devices themselves, the networks they connect to, and the clouds and cloud services where they store and analyze data. Let’s take a look at some of the typical measures that contribute to overall IoT security.

Types of IoT Security

You can think of IoT security in a few separate buckets:

  • Device security measures protect devices against cyberattacks by ensuring secure boot procedures; secure firmware updates, including vulnerability patching; and the use of secure communication protocols (e.g., TLS/SSL). Many device security measures also require device management, where an organization’s IT department administers maintenance, updates, and monitoring of devices.
  • Network security measures include firewalls, which block unauthorized access to devices and networks; VPNs, which encrypt data as it traverses the internet between a user and a data center; intrusion prevention systems (IPS), which detect and prevent cyberattacks; and DDoS security, which thwarts distributed denial of service attacks.
  • Cloud security measures include secure data storage, access controls, and encryption. Many IoT devices store data they collect in the cloud, so strong security, encryption, and authentication are crucial to keep that data where it belongs.

One more measure not specific to IoT security—but nonetheless key to securing IoT devices—is strong identity and access management, ensuring only authorized users and other devices can access IoT data.

Top Challenges of IoT Security

As one of the big enablers of digital transformation, IoT devices have seen rapid, broad adoption worldwide. Unfortunately, they tend to create some significant security challenges by nature.

IoT device security has a reputation for being poor, with many devices offering little in the way of their own protection. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Memory and processing power limitations in many devices make security measures like firewalls and encryption difficult to implement.¹
  • Weak factory-default login credentials are common and can be trivial for attackers to crack—a major vulnerability if it’s overlooked.
  • Lack of vendor support for older devices can cause firmware and software to fall behind on important security updates, and patching the devices is often difficult.
  • Lack of standardization across devices, a common issue with new technologies, can make it difficult for a single security solution to protect all IoT.

Beyond the security of the devices themselves, IoT devices can contribute to broader security and operational challenges for an organization, such as:

  • A large number of new attack vectors as the devices communicate with your network, the cloud, and each other.
  • Scaling issues around the influx of data from IoT devices, which can overtax existing IT and security infrastructure.
  • Privacy concerns around data collection, particularly of personal data and intellectual property—especially if it’s not fully clear what data is collected or how it’s used.
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Zscaler ThreatLabz found that almost 38% of transactions from IoT devices were unencrypted, leaving data exposed.

Top IoT Security Threats

IoT devices can make an organization more vulnerable to ransomware, data breaches, and tactics like DNS tunneling, but the overwhelming majority of threats that leverage IoT are botnet malware.

Botnets are networks of devices under an attacker’s control that can carry out large-scale coordinated attacks. Botnets have been used for DDoS attacks, financial breaches, cryptomining, targeted intrusions, and more.

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Zscaler ThreatLabz found that two botnet malware families—Mirai and Gafgyt—accounted for 66% of blocked payloads targeting IoT.

How Are IoT Devices Used in DDoS Attacks?

In a DDoS attack, a botnet sends a deluge of traffic to a target web server or network, overwhelming it so that it can’t process legitimate requests. IoT devices are attractive targets for attackers looking to grow a botnet because of their aforementioned security shortcomings, and because they’re easy to access over the internet. An attacker can use a swarm of compromised IoT devices to wreak havoc on an unprepared server.

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IoT devices have been part of some of history’s biggest DDoS attacks, such as the 2016 Mirai botnet attack that disrupted services for Amazon, Reddit, Visa, and others.

IoT Security Best Practices

To keep your sensitive data and applications safe from threats, it’s critical to enact access policies that keep IoT devices from serving as an open door. Keep these best practices in mind:

  • Track and manage network devices. If your organization allows unmanaged IoT devices, you can’t rely on endpoint agents alone to gain complete visibility. Deploy a solution that can identify devices communicating across your network, understand their functions, and inspect encrypted communications that might otherwise slip past your defenses.
  • Change default passwords. Factory-default credentials make it extremely easy for attackers to exploit devices. You may not be able to control passwords on unsanctioned IoT devices, but for managed IoT, this is a basic first step. It should also be part of your security training for any devices employees bring to work.
  • Stay on top of patching and updates. Many industries—particularly manufacturing and healthcare—rely on IoT devices for day-to-day workflows. For these sanctioned devices, stay up to date on newly discovered vulnerabilities and keep your device security current.
  • Implement a zero trust security architecture. Eliminate implicit trust policies and tightly control access to sensitive data with dynamic, identity-based authentication. Inspect traffic to and from all unsanctioned IoT devices that require internet access, and block them from all corporate data through a proxy. Zero trust is the only effective way to stop unsanctioned IoT devices from posing a threat to your network.

Achieve IoT Security with Zscaler

IoT brings massive potential for innovation—but also for increased risk. To empower your organization to embrace one while minimizing the other, you need to know your IoT is secure. Zscaler Privileged Remote Access enables fast, direct, and secure access to IoT (including industrial IoT) and operational technology (OT) assets from field locations, the factory floor, or anywhere.

As the industry’s only zero trust-based access solution for IoT, IIoT, and OT, Privileged Remote Access provides remote workers and third-party vendors with clientless access to sensitive private apps, remote desktops, and production systems without the need install a client on unmanaged devices or log in to jump hosts and VPNs, delivering:

  • Increased uptime and productivity: Direct connectivity with inline zero trust security makes it fast for users to connect to and repair equipment, minimizing downtime and eliminating slow, costly backhauling over legacy VPNs and PAM products.
  • Improved safety for people and systems: OT networks and systems are hidden from the internet through inside-out connections, so assets cannot be discovered or exploited by bad actors seeking to disrupt production processes.
  • Exceptional user experience: Clientless access from users’ web browsers makes it easy for remote workers and third-party vendors and contractors to access OT systems without the friction of conventional VPN.

A unified platform extends secure zero trust access across your private apps, workloads, and IoT/OT devices, integrates multiple disjointed remote access tools, and unifies your security and access policies to reduce complexity and stop breaches.


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Zscaler for IoT and OT enables organizations to reduce risk and enable secure IoT and OT adoption to increase productivity and business agility.

Suggested Resources

Secure Your OT and IoT
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IoT in the Enterprise Report: Empty Office Edition
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Zscaler ThreatLabz IoT Dashboard
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