IoT Security in 2019: Things You Need to Know

IoT Security in 2019

In recent years, IoT has been on the rise, with billions of new devices getting connected each year. The increase in connectivity is happening throughout markets and business sectors, providing new functionalities and opportunities. As devices get connected, they also become unprecedently exposed to the threat of cyberattacks. While the IoT security industry is still shaping, the solution is not yet clear. In this article, we will review the latest must-know about IoT visibility & security and we will dive into new approaches to secure the IoT revolution.

IoT visibility & security in 2019:

1. IoT endpoint security vs network security

Securing IoT devices is a real challenge. IoT devices are highly diversified, with a wide variety of operating systems (real-time operating systems, Linux-based or bare-metal), communication protocols and architectures. On top of the high diversity, comes the issues of low resources and lack of industry standards and regulations. Most security solutions today focus on securing the network (discover network anomalies and achieve visibility into IoT devices that are active in the network), while the understanding that the devices themselves must be protected is now establishing. The fact that IoT devices can be easily exploited makes them a very good target for attackers, aiming to use the weak IoT device as an entry point to the entire enterprise network, without being caught. Besides that, it’s important to remember that network solutions are irrelevant for distributed IoT devices (i.e., home medical devices), that has no network to protect them.

Manufacturers of IoT devices are therefore key for a secure IoT environment and more and more organizations are willing to pay more for built-in security into their smart devices.

2. “Cryptography is typically bypassed, not penetratedShamir’s law

In recent years we see a lot of focus on IoT data integrity, which basically means encryption & authentication. Though very important by itself, it’s important to understand that encryption doesn’t mean full security. When focusing mainly on encryption & authentication, companies forget that the devices are still exposed to cybersecurity vulnerabilities that can be used to penetrate the device and receive access into the decrypted information, thus bypassing the authentication and encryption entirely. In other words, what’s known for years in the traditional cyber industry as Shamir’s law should  now make its way to the IoT security industry: “Cryptography is typically bypassed, not penetrated” and therefore companies must invest in securing their devices from cyber attacks and not just handle data integrity. To read more about that, please visit Sternum IoT Security two-part blog post.

3. 3rd party IoT vulnerabilities

One of the main issues in IoT security is the heavily reliance of IoT devices on third-party components for communication capabilities, cryptographic capabilities, the operating system itself etc. In fact, this reliance is so strong that it has reached a point where it’s unlikely to find an IoT device without third-party components within it. The fact that third-party libraries are commonly used across devices, combined with the difficulty to secure them, makes them a sweet spot for hackers to look for IoT vulnerabilities and exploit many IoT devices through such 3rd party component.

Vulnerability in third-party components is very dangerous. In many IoT devices, there is no separation and segmentation between processes and/or tasks, which means that even one vulnerability in a third-party library is compromising the entire device. This could lead to lethal results: attackers can leverage the third-party vulnerability to take control over the device and cause damage, steal information of perform a ransomware attack on the manufacturer.

it’s not only that third-party components are dangerous, but they are also extremely difficult to secure. Many third-party components are delivered in binary form, with no source code available. Even when the source code is available, it’s often hard to dive into it and asses the security level or vulnerabilities inside it. Either way, most developers use the open-source components as black-boxes. On top of that, static analysis tools and compiler security flags lack the ability to analyze and secure third-party components and most IoT security solutions cannot offer real-time protection into binary code.

VxWorks vulnerabilities

A recent example of such third party vulnerability that affects millions of devices can be found in the security bugs found in the VxWorks embedded operating system. These vulnerabilities exposed every manufacturer that used VxWorks operating system, even if security measures like penetration testing, static analysis, PKI and firmware analysis were taken.

To summarize, in order to provide strong and holistic IoT protection, you must handle and secure all parts of the device, including the third-party components. Sternum IoT security solutions focus on holistically securing IoT devices from within and therefore offers a unique capability of embedding security protection & visibility into the device from end-to-end. Sternum’s solution is also operating during real-time execution of the device and prevents all attack attempts at the exact point of exploitation, while immediately alerting about the attack and its origins, including from within third-party libraries.

4. Regulation is kicking in

In the past two years, we’re seeing a across industries effort to create regulations and standards for IoT security. We are expecting to see more of these efforts shaping into real regulations that will obligate manufacturers to comply with them.

A good and important example is the FDA premarket cybersecurity guidance that was published last year and is expected to become a formal guidance in 2020. The guidance includes different aspects of cybersecurity in medical devices (which is in many cases are essentially IoT devices) such as data integrity, Over-the-air updates, real-time protection, execution integrity, third-party liabilities and real-time monitoring of the devices.

Another example is the California Internet of Things cybersecurity law that states: Starting on January 1st, 2020, any manufacturer of a device that connects “directly or indirectly” to the internet must equip it with “reasonable” security features, designed to prevent unauthorized access, modification, or information disclosure.

We expect to see more states and countries forming regulations around IoT security since these devices lack of security may have a dramatic effect on industry, cities, and people’s lives. Top two regulations that are about to be released are the new EU Cybersecurity Act (based on ENISA and ETSI standards) and the NIST IoT and Cybersecurity framework.


Natali Tshuva

Natali brings over 10 years of experience, both as a researcher and a team leader, in the field of offensive cyber security and software development. After graduating magna cum laude B.Sc. in Computer Science at the age of 19, as part of a special program for gifted and talented kids, Natali was handpicked to serve in IDF’s 8200 elite technology unit (the Israeli equivalent of NSA) as a low level security software engineer. Prior to founding Sternum, Natali held several security research related roles, including leading different R&D teams at Cellebrite and NSO Technologies. Natali holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science from Bar Ilan University.