All about IoT device authentication

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By Julian Durand

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IoT Device Authentication (& Why It’s Important)

IoT devices are a critical part of industrial infrastructure and continue to grow in scale and reach. Current estimates project that there will be over 14 billion industrial IoT device deployments by 2025. Networks of IoT devices help multiple sectors, such as energy, food, and pharmaceuticals, improve product delivery, perform predictive maintenance, and monitor and control supply chains. Unfortunately, this great year-on-year growth has also outstripped security practices that protect IoT device networks. 

This means many industrial verticals now rely on an ever-expanding network with critical underlying security flaws. This presents a very large and growing attack surface for cyber-criminals seeking to steal data, harness power through botnets, or disrupt business operations through ransomware attacks. 

The root of these security vulnerabilities often lies with insecure IoT device authentication, meaning attackers are able to spoof server identities, break into networks, and steal data in transit due to weak identity and access management (IAM) protocols.

Challenges caused by poor IoT device authentication

The rapid proliferation of IoT devices means that many networks are built on legacy authentication protocols, which are easier for hackers to circumvent. In addition, many newer IoT network architectures do not deploy best-in-class authentication security despite the risks of not doing so. 

Simple certificates cannot address the multiple levels of authorizations, roles, and information these complex environments need. Below, we’ll look at the biggest challenges caused by poor IoT device authentication.

Identity and access management (IAM)

IAM governs which devices connect and are allowed to do what within a network. It also defines how people or devices are identified and authenticated as authorized users. Many industrial IoT devices are located outside of the home network’s security defenses, making them vulnerable to attack.

 Once infiltrated, hackers can use them as a backdoor to steal important information on the server-side. Conversely, these devices are also vulnerable to fake messaging from spoofed servers, leading them to perform tasks they shouldn’t. Without a completely secure IoT device authentication system, an organization’s identity and access management function is never safe.

Data and network security

IoT device networks create enormous amounts of data. This data is transmitted back to home networks, where it improves decision-making and system monitoring. There is also data sent towards the devices with instructions and updates. IoT device authentication is therefore critical for a number of reasons in this exchange. 

Without secure authentication, there is no way to ensure the reliability of the data being received from IoTs or stop it from being tapped and stolen. With no way to authenticate their server, the devices can also install malicious software for use in other attacks.

Regulatory compliance

Multiple data protection regulations worldwide obligate organizations to strictly protect and manage any personally identifiable information they collect, including data received from IoT devices. However, industry-specific regulations, such as FDA requirements, also rely on secure IoT networks to ensure safety and compliance. Therefore, a network without strict IoT device authentication risks breaching regulations, incurring fines, and losing consumer trust.

Data sharing

Securely analyzing and sharing data streams from IoT devices is key for successful collaboration with other organizations or third-party contractors. However, data sharing is becoming more difficult due to concerns over data safety. Secure and compliant sharing can only occur where clear IAM and IoT device authentication protocols are in place to reduce the risk of data breaches or oversharing.

How to achieve secure IoT device authentication

There are a number of elements necessary for ensuring  strong IoT security and scalability for device authentication that can solve the challenges posed by expanding IoT device networks. Three of the most important are:

  • Secure identity provisioning: Secure digital identities can be given to IoT devices on the factory-floor or remotely through the cloud through digital certificates. These identities are tied with cryptographic keys, backed by a trusted certificate authority (CA). In batch or individually, these device identities allow trusted communications with servers for data exchanges and can help identify, isolate, and exclude compromised devices.
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI): Secure identities are the first step in secure data exchange; these identities allow devices to take part in cryptographic authentication processes for authorized devices via a PKI and encryption key authentication method. A PKI is an extremely robust process that ensures that a person or device can’t spoof an identity. Once authenticated, processes such as data encryption, decryption, and code signing can be performed safely. 
  • Secure data management: Secure IoT device authentication creates trust in where the data is coming from, but it still doesn’t solve issues surrounding data security during transit, analysis, and sharing. For these functions, using a secure data virtualization platform increases security and admin control over all data assets and thwarts unauthorized users. 

As only a virtual copy of data is used, data can be brought together for analysis wherever it is stored, negating the need for data migration.  All analysis is performed in secure execution environments with strict access controls, meaning data sharing can also happen safely and without data ever moving out of the organization’s control.

Conclusion

Networks of IoT devices are growing and delivering significant benefits across a range of verticals. However, much of the architecture supporting these networks have critical vulnerabilities. Strong IoT device authentication can only be ensured through robust device identity provisioning protocols and data exchanges secured by public key infrastructure. Data processing, analysis, and sharing can also be secured by performing data operations through a virtualized data platform, such as Intertrust Platform.

By adopting a robust, managed PKI service, organizations can provision their devices to meet these requirements more securely, and at lower cost, than in house. Not to mention, we help you with the implementation of a successful, sustainable PKI set-up as well. When do you use Hardware Security Modules (HSMs)? Cloud or factory provisioning? What authorizations and roles? We have you covered.

PKI for IoT has advanced beyond simple X.509 certificates. Our PKI and device provisioning have been built specifically for large-scale IoT device networks. Due to economies of scale, our PKI can save 50%-85% on an in-house system and can handle all of the CA and provisioning tasks, with the capacity to provision millions of identities a day.

To find out more about how our secure identity provisioning and PKI are improving industrial IoT device authentication and security across the world, you can read more here or talk to our team.

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About Julian Durand

Julian Durand is VP of Intertrust Secure Systems and product owner of Intertrust PKI (iPKI). He earned his engineering degree from Carleton University, and his MBA from the University of Southern California (USC). He is also a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and inventor with 10 issued patents.