Sean McDermott is Founder and CEO of Windward Consulting and RedMonocle.
Ordinary, everyday objects that connect to the web and cater to our needs — such as wearable health monitors, smart toasters or air quality sensors — are examples of the Internet of Things (IoT). As described by TechTarget, IoT is “a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” In the business world, this includes videoconferencing devices, large smart screens or any controlled utility such as a smart thermostat — which can all disrupt workflow if attacked by cyber hackers. Even the most advanced technologies are never bulletproof.
According to a Juniper Research study, the total number of IoT connections will reach 83 billion by 2024. This statistic should not be alarming but rather prepare leaders to adapt and create strategies that can prevent any security risks as IoT connections double over the next three years. Without the right security, any IoT device connected to Wi-Fi has the potential of being hacked. Once cyberattackers have access to the network, they can steal sensitive digital data. Fortunately, implementing proper cybersecurity measures now can help find and fix security blind spots and minimize any IoT threat potential in the future.
The Increasing Threat Landscape
Cyberattackers prey on vulnerabilities and will try to locate any IoT device at risk. Unpatched software, or devices that lack the latest updates, give attackers a better chance of corrupting an organization’s network and assets. In fact, according to a Ponemon Institute survey, nearly 60% of breaches over the past two years were attributable to compromised, unpatched software. As more and more individuals use IoT devices and connect those devices to a business network, this can be a source of entry for cyberattackers to gain access to and jeopardize an organization’s sensitive data. It’s a cyberattacker’s dream.
The first step in keeping devices and information safe is for companies to implement a thorough process of identifying where software patches need to be utilized. This starts with IT teams that scan the network for any vulnerabilities — that includes staying current on new software versions — and identifying which vulnerabilities require immediate action. Once this process is complete, all findings and action steps should be explained to the executive team to create full visibility around security needs and draw urgency to funding proactive measures.
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Developing An IoT Understanding
Think about the risks associated with cardiac devices that are used to monitor and control heart functions. The potential outcome related to a hacker’s ability to manage a device by accessing its transmitter through security gaps is horrifying — but possible. If ignored, the consequences of even the most minuscule security gaps can be disastrous. The same goes for businesses. According to the Ponemon Institute survey previously referenced, an alarming 34% of companies knew about vulnerabilities before being attacked, but simply never had the time to address the problem.
Minimizing The Gap
To protect against any security challenges and threats, it’s crucial that IT leaders implement an end-to-end approach to cybersecurity and identify IoT vulnerabilities before any valuable information is compromised. The Ponemon Institute also reported that 52% of respondents say their organizations are disadvantaged in responding to vulnerabilities because they use manual processes. To mitigate this issue, organizations should lean on machine learning and other AI-based technologies to identify existing vulnerabilities and improve alerting efficiency in real time.
How Leaders Can Incorporate AI-Based Technologies
AI and machine learning can help IT teams process the vast amounts of data coming from monitoring and security systems that look for system performance patterns and help detect real-time cyberattack attempts. Here are practical tips for successfully incorporating automation to identify system vulnerabilities.
1. Determine where you will get AI tools. Modern businesses need automation to sift through the volumes of data that are simply too complex and voluminous for human operators. While some companies build their own automation, many enterprises opt for an AI vendor.
2. Choose an AI vendor wisely. If companies decide to hire a third-party vendor, they need to look at the vendors’ AI road maps and decide which model is right for them. Do you want to see more raw data? Or do you need more machine learning-driven models that provide more analysis and less data? Are there vendors that are particularly innovative in the space?
3. Make sure your solution is proactive. All automated systems do not have the same capabilities, but effective ones proactively scan IT environments to check on their performance and look for anomalies.
4. Ensure that your solution is adding value. Business leaders should continuously reevaluate their third-party automation vendors to understand how effective they are in shoring up cybersecurity. If the results aren’t compelling, business leaders should shop around to different vendors.
Businesses can gain immense benefits from IoT, such as improved productivity and cost-effective operations, but these added benefits come with a cost by creating more security challenges. During the transformative IoT era, these security gaps will likely continue to increase as organizations distribute hundreds of thousands of IoT connections into their business systems. It’s the responsibility of security leaders to know and understand all potential vulnerabilities and mitigate issues by adopting a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. When security leaders adopt modern tech to find, fund and fix their cybersecurity risk blind spots, they are more equipped to protect their businesses from any unnecessary IoT attacks.