Is the Internet of Things Too Big to Protect? Not if IoT Applications Are Protected!

August 18, 2015
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co-authored by Brandt T. Heatherington
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3 min read

The IoT Market Is Exploding…

The evolution of connected devices as nodes on the Internet of Things (IoT) brings limitless possibilities. As more and more everyday things are connected to the Internet — medical devices, automobiles, homes, etc. — the long-term forecast for the IoT is staggering: By 2020, there will be 212 billion installed things, 30 billion autonomously connected things and approximately 3 million petabytes of embedded system data, all of which are expected to generate nearly $9 trillion in business value.

More immediately, by 2017, the Internet of Things will surpass the PC, tablet and phone markets combined. And by 2018, the wearables, connected car and TV markets will equal the tablet market.

Listen to the podcast series: Five Indisputable Facts about IoT Security

…And Application-Related Threats Are Growing Rapidly

Along with this connectivity, convenience and sustained market growth come a wide range of serious security and privacy risks. According to Scott Crawford, Research Director at 451 Research, “the application’s removal from the enterprise datacenter poses a new set of risks for organizations that may already be struggling with application protection. The challenge will only become greater with the explosion of the Internet of Things.”

IoT applications fall into three basic categories:

  • Mobile or desktop applications that control IoT devices;
  • IoT firmware and embedded applications;
  • Applications on open IoT platforms (for example, apps built for Apple Watch).

All of these applications need to be protected or you run the risk of undesirable outcomes such as:

  • Improper or unsafe operation of IoT devices;
  • Theft of confidential data, private user information or application-related intellectual property;
  • Fraud and unauthorized access to payment processing channels;
  • Damage to your brand image and deterioration of customer, prospect and partner trust.

Applications can be attacked in many ways. In the case of an IoT solution involving a desktop or mobile app that monitors or controls the device, often all the attacker needs to do is obtain access to the application and tamper with it to do what they want with the device.

Hacking one of those applications can often be done quite easily and in just a few steps. It starts with reverse engineering the application to understand the source code. Attackers disassemble the binary code, which can be performed by leveraging a tool like IDA Pro. They then decompile the assembly code into high-level pseudo-code and review the source code to obtain cryptographic keys and ciphers. The final step features actors creating a new version of the application that has been tampered with in order to control the device in the way they wish to control it.

What Can We Do About It?

IoT solutions have a large threat surface with many channels for hacking and data theft. The smarter these things get, the more exposed they will become.

A holistic approach that involves the device, data, network and application layers is required. The following chart summarizes key IoT security components that must be considered:

Since applications are central to most IoT processes — and the recent past has shown that it is nearly impossible to protect all devices and networks — it’s best to start your IoT protection strategy at the application layer.

Protection of IoT applications against hacks can be realized through application hardening and runtime protection. These can be achieved with no impact to your source code via automated insertion of guards into your binary code. When implemented properly, layers of guards are deployed so that both the application and guards are protected and there’s no single point of failure.

Listen to the podcast series: Five Indisputable Facts about IoT Security

Patrick Kehoe
CMO, Arxan Technologies

Patrick is the Chief Marketing Officer at Arxan. He and the team at Arxan are in the business of understanding application security vulnerabilities and deplo...
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