How Secure Is IoT Data Transmission?

The internet has become a part of daily life for most people worldwide. The development of the Internet of Things (IoT) has taken it further, becoming one of the world’s most influential and revolutionary technologies.  

The IoT is a network of connected devices and appliances. For example, intelligent homes let you control lighting, refrigerators, air conditioning, alarm systems, and other things through an application or voice command. IoT technology is also used in manufacturing, building management, and process automation.

But as these devices help you, they also collect data with each use. It may include data about you, your habits, where you are, what you’re doing, etc. So, how secure is data in the IoT? Keep reading to find out.

How IoT Devices Collect Data

Data collection and transmission play a prominent role in ensuring IoT devices work as expected in real-time, even when the communicating devices are far apart. Each device in an IoT network has sensors that track some data. For example, every device will have a sensor to track its physical state. But some devices have additional sensors to track various other kinds of data.

There are four main stages of data collection in the IoT:

1. Gathering Data

The IoT-connected device collects data from its surroundings via sensors, actions, or both. For example, a smart air conditioning system might monitor the temperature in a home and report when it deviates outside of a given acceptable range.

2. Data Transmission

For instance, to empower communication between IoT devices, one usually chooses the lightweight MQTT communication protocol. As a result, in this data transmission process, IoT devices take over a publisher or subscriber role. In addition, an MQTT Broker stands in the middle of this communication and ensures data transmission. MQTT topics help ensure subscribers get the messages they only subscribe to.

3. Data Analysis

This step is when the IoT system turns the data into useful information for the user. So, the cloud might then send a notification to your smartphone and give you the option to activate the air conditioner or may automatically activate it. As a user, you might decide to set a timer for the air conditioner to activate half an hour before you plan to arrive home or to conserve energy when you’re not home.

What Types Of Data Are Collected?

IoT devices have sensors to collect three main types of data to perform their main functions:

  • Environmental Data: Some IoT devices are equipped with sensors that can monitor air quality, humidity, physical movement, etc. Devices like this can be used for building management, to ensure occupant comfort, or for threat detection.
  • Equipment Data: This is data about the state of each particular IoT-connected device. For example, whether an appliance is turned on or off, how much energy a device is consuming, what function a machine is performing, etc.
  • Smart Meter Data: Also called ‘submeter’ data, this is used to automatically measure the utility usage of individual sections in complex systems. For example, submeter data can be used in apartment complexes to measure individual apartments’ utility (water, gas, electricity, etc.) usage.

The fact that this data is collected makes IoT systems convenient and capable of allowing an individual to manage larger systems easily. However, a lot of personal data may be collected too, which is concerning for both businesses and individual users. 

For example, having an IoT-connected smart home could mean that your personal data and activities are being watched and analyzed by your smart devices. This includes your location, content consumption, consumption rate, daily habits, browsing history, passwords, camera recordings, and audio recordings. 

Think about smart speakers—they only respond when you speak a designated command, but they must always listen if they’re to hear that command. In other words, smart speakers always listen to everything you say and do, even when they aren’t ‘turned on.’ Is that data stored? Is it used? Where does it go? How much privacy can one maintain while living around devices on the IoT?

The Main Security Concerns Of IoT

One of the most pressing concerns for both privacy and security in IoT devices is, by far, that built-in security features are lacking. Most manufacturers don’t spend much time developing efficient security measures for these devices and appliances. Testing, improving, and updating security features may also be neglected in favor of developing other features and speeding up product release.

Couple this with the fact that there’s currently no defined security standard for IoT devices, and it’s clear that the release of devices with poor security is a significant risk. Insecure data storage and transfer, inadequate hardware, and easily-guessed hard-coded passwords become risks from the manufacturer’s side. A lack of robust security features can expose locations, passwords, device identifiers, and other sensitive information.

Further, devices in the IoT are vulnerable to all the security risks of other internet-connected devices. So, cyberattacks, data leaks, and insecure internet connections should be considered risks when using the IoT. For example, man-in-the-middle attacks occur when hackers access an insecure, unencrypted network and eavesdrop on its data transfer. This can lead to information theft or malicious data modification in the system, like a false security update.

Malware, although still a risk, isn’t as threatening as other risks. Yes, malware can be designed for any system, but hackers generally don’t target devices with relatively few users compared to other devices. Remember, this can change if a specific device suddenly becomes incredibly popular, or hackers might target small, niche devices, so never rule it out.

How You Can Protect Yourself

There will always be security risks when using the internet or the IoT. But you can still take action to protect yourself. Here are some of the best practices to stay safe on the IoT:

  • Research products before purchase. You should find out what data the product collects, how it stores it, what it does with it, and whether it sends it anywhere. You should also check what privacy features are included on the device.
  • Use strong passwords. Generic, easily-guessed passwords only make it easier for hackers to get hold of your accounts and information. 
  • Secure your internet connections. Securing and encrypting your home network adds an extra layer of protection above default security measures. 
  • Take your network security a step further by adding another encryption layer using a VPN. 
  • Check each device regularly for software updates.
  • Check an application’s privacy policy before clicking ‘agree.’

Things that can improve home network security include changing the default username and password, creating a guest network, minimizing bandwidth, activating a firewall, updating router firmware, and using network encryption.

Final Thoughts

The Internet of Things enables people and businesses to do things they never could before, but it’s not without its flaws. Any data security issues can be devastating, especially when sensitive business data—like client information—is involved.

The main concern is that manufacturers aren’t made to uphold any security standards and often neglect fully developing solid security features in their devices. Additionally, the IoT is subject to all other security risks on the internet. 

Fortunately, you can take measures to protect yourself. Beefing up your internet connection’s security, using a VPN, checking devices for firmware updates, and ensuring you understand security and privacy policies can help you stay safe when using the Internet of Things.