iot devices

What are the Best Ways to Protect IoT Devices from Attack?

July 9, 2021 - Emily Newton

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Some of the most interesting and useful consumer technologies released in the past few years have been the Internet of Things (IoT) or smart devices — items that can connect to the internet to send or receive data.

These devices include washing machines that let you know when your laundry finishes or a smart thermostat that automatically adjusts an office’s temperature based on how many people are in the workplace.

IoT devices, however, can also create a range of new problems for homeowners and small businesses. Each of these devices is another route hackers can take when attacking your network. To make matters worse, IoT devices can also be notoriously difficult to secure compared to devices like smartphones and laptops.

This is how any IoT owner can defend their data by preparing their IoT devices for potential cyberattacks.

The Basics: Updating Software and Changing Default Passwords

Often, attacks take advantage of the weakest link in a network’s security — like an employee who doesn’t know how to spot a phishing attack or a device still secured with the manufacturer’s default password.

A few simple security practices will help you keep your IoT devices secure, even if you don’t have that much knowledge about IoT devices or network security.

1. Change Default Passwords and Settings

When setting up a new IoT device, it’s generally good practice to disable access and connectivity features you don’t want or need. Many devices, for example, will try to automatically connect to other devices and networks in the area by default.

While this can help simplify the process of creating a smart office or home network, it can also create a significant security gap. Hackers and unauthorized users could easily connect the network through the unsecured IoT device.

Some devices also come with features like remote access, which you may not necessarily need and can make devices easier to compromise. One homeowner, for example, may want to configure their smart coffee maker so they can activate it from bed. Another may just need notifications and could safely disable remote access features.

Many IoT devices also come with password protection options that will prevent network users from changing security settings or using the device without the right password. These devices often come with default passwords, however, and may not require the user to change them when the device is first activated.

Hackers can often guess default passwords or use manufacturer resources to look up what the password for the device may be, allowing them to access its functions.

Changing the default password to something unique and secure will help keep an IoT device safe.

2. Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires that, any time you try to log in to a device, you also have another credential on hand to prove it’s really you. Typically, this means the device will send a code to your email or smartphone. Providing this code will allow you to log in to the device.

Like a strong password, this provides some additional protection for IoT devices and helps ensure unauthorized users can’t easily log in.

3. Keep Software Updated

Most security tools rely on databases of virus and malware signatures — files that enable the software to detect specific viruses.

If these aren’t updated, newer malware could slip by your IoT device’s defenses. Vulnerabilities that may have been patched could also remain active on your device, making it easier to compromise.

Ensuring your IoT devices are kept regularly updated will help you avoid infection by malware.

4. Use Strong Wi-Fi Encryption

The home or office router is the gateway between IoT devices and the internet. If it’s not secure, it could open up both your IoT devices and your network to attack.

As with IoT devices, it’s good practice to check the defaults on your router, changing the username and password if the two are still set to a default value.

If you don’t already use encryption, it’s good practice to set your router to the strongest encryption type you have available. On most routers, this will be WPA2. If your router doesn’t support this level of encryption, consider upgrading.

Network Segmentation and User Access Management

Basic protections can only do so much to defend IoT devices — and the network they connect to — against an attack. Managing the network access your IoT devices have can help you minimize the risk of unauthorized network access, even if a smart device is compromised.

Protecting Your Home

For a smart home, this can be accomplished with something like a guest network. Most consumer routers allow you to quickly set up a guest network that IoT devices can connect to.

This guest network functionality is intended to keep guest connections separate from your main home network — allowing guests and people with your Wi-Fi password to connect their devices to your router, without giving them the same access that devices on the main network have.

Protecting Your Business

Businesses will likely need more advanced protections. Cyberattacks against businesses are on the rise, and it seems increasingly likely that IoT devices may make business networks less secure unless the proper precautions are taken.

Small and medium businesses can design a segmented network that separates devices into different network sections based on the information and other devices they need consistent access to.

A wide variety of network segmentation techniques exist. Industrial IoT users, for example, may create a network that segments machine control systems off from the larger network.

User access management offers similar benefits to businesses. With user access management, network administrators can ensure that even if a particular device or user account is compromised, it can only be used to do so much — limiting the overall network access a hacker will have if they compromise one account or smart device.

This process is somewhat more complex than just using a guest network, and typically requires a documented segmentation strategy along with technology like firewalls and specially configured VLANs (virtual local area network). However, this strategy can provide better protection in the event a device is compromised.

Monitoring Network Activity

You can also continuously monitor activity on your network. Network traffic analysis tools and cybersecurity platforms allow you to identify unusual network events that could suggest an attack.

The owner of a smart home network probably doesn’t need to keep track of network activity to keep their IoT devices safe, but it is definitely possible with the right software. A growing number of consumer-oriented network traffic monitoring tools allow you to keep track of network activity. These tools can help you detect both unusual traffic and typical network issues.

These tools also allow you to track network performance. If your internet connection is slower than you expect, you may be able to find out why using one of these tools. Background downloads and forgotten streaming services, for example, can eat up bandwidth, slowing your internet connection. These services will appear in the network traffic analysis.

Defending Network IoT Devices Against Potential Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks targeting home and business networks are more common than you might think, and they are likely to remain a problem for IoT device owners well into the future.

A combination of simple and advanced cybersecurity tactics can help you keep your network safe. Even the most basic practices — like deactivating unwanted networking features and changing default passwords — can go a long way in defending a device against potential attacks.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys reading and writing about how technology is changing the world around us.

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