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Shaping the Future of IoT: Navigating Innovation, Standards, and Security

Internet der Dinge (IoT)

At this point, the concept of IoT isn’t new, but what IoT actually entails continues to evolve (and grow) at a rapid pace. As a result, it’s important to consider the implications of industry standards and regulations on ongoing product development and business growth. 

So, what exactly do you need to consider? Let’s take a look at what’s shaping the future of IoT security, as well as the crucial budgetary and liability challenges we’re seeing today.

The competing priorities of IoT

Designing IoT systems and products isn’t easy for many reasons, not least of which are the three competing priorities that accompany them: innovation, compliance, and security.

Innovation drives much of the behavior around why we develop connected devices. Most IoT devices aim to increase efficiency, improve processes, or advance product functionality and insights.

Now, compliance with emerging standards governs how these new connected devices work. These standards can vary based on country, region, or industry. Still, anyone creating a new IoT device should aim for a high level of performance and conformity to the most widespread standards.

Finally, we can’t forget about security, especially because any given network is only as secure as the weakest link connected to it. With so many IoT devices, that means more potential entry points for malicious parties. As a result, it’s essential to think about how to embed security in every device and to do so in a way that can scale because most IoT systems include multiple connected products. We need to ensure that the overall system is secure.

What needs to be secured in IoT?

Digging deeper into the IoT market, what exactly needs to be secured? The answer involves a lot more than you might think.

The most obvious and most straightforward answer is the device itself. This ranges from very small devices, like embedded medical devices or energy meters, to large devices, like complex machinery. These devices require manufacturers to think about security by design from the beginning, as every communication going to or from the device must be protected.

Additionally, IoT devices have software applications that perform specific functions, and firmware needs to be protected with proper code-signing practices. It’s critical that devices validate the firmware authenticity and origin before accepting firmware updates. 

Next, there’s an entire offshoot of the IoT known as the IIoT, or industrial IoT, which focuses on industrial equipment in manufacturing facilities. Previously, when machines weren’t connected, securing the factory’s perimeter was enough to keep everything inside safe. But when all of those machines become connected, each component offers a point of entry into the network, meaning that every single one must have security incorporated.

That leads us to the concept of OT, including distribution and supply chain, whether for manufacturing, retail, or anything else. This is yet another area where more connected devices are coming into play. Once again, each device and component within those devices need security to ensure that the data flowing into and out of them is secure and that only those who are supposed to connect can do so.

When it comes to IoT security, identity is the new perimeter

In this new environment, known as Industry 4.0, things are much more distributed and connected than in the past. Whereas everything in Industry 3.0 was very structured, Industry 4.0 is defined by communication and connectivity across multiple devices – all of which are distributed in the cloud.

And therein lies the challenge: How do we secure communications between any and all of these highly connected, highly distributed devices? It starts by making sure each device has a unique identity. This identity can then be used to prove authenticity and create secure connections between devices. Ultimately, it’s this identity that establishes trust in Industry 4.0.

The financial and business impact of securing the IoT

Fortunately, device manufacturers are aware of these needs, and IoT security budgets are expected to increase by as much as 45% in the next five years. This is very promising, as OEMs and device operators recognize the need to emphasize security design and ongoing strategy for IoT devices.

However, that budget is not set in stone: 52% of companies report that the security budget is at risk of being diverted to cover the cost of cyber breaches on connected devices. This ultimately becomes a vicious cycle, as the potential cost of a breach only underscores the need to invest in security design and strategy on the front end to ensure your team can be proactive rather than reactive.

The bottom line: The entire supply chain requires trust

The bottom line is that thinking through security proactively is essential throughout the entire lifecycle of IoT products—from designing and sourcing components to manufacturing devices, assembling and integrating devices, and operating and updating devices. The best way is to establish unique identities at each stage proactively.

Many industries are introducing guidelines for this, mostly based on asymmetric certificates issued through a PKI solution. Following a PKI architecture and having a sound strategy can help ensure secure identities are incorporated proactively at every step of the way, making connected devices more reliable and secure – helping reduce the risk of a costly breach.

Ultimately, it’s up to everyone – device manufacturers, OEMs, and operators and integrators of connected devices – to establish trust, and using certificate-based identities is the best way to do that against the backdrop of Industry 4.0.