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Securing the IoT: A question of checks and balances

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The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) offers the prospect of fully connected offices and homes, enabling everything from security monitoring via internet-connected cameras to water and heating management via smart meters. You can even feed your pet remotely using an IoT device.

Such is the IoT boom that the number of devices deployed and used is set to overtake the world’s population this year, with analysts forecasting that over 20 billion IoT devices will be in the wild by 2020.

But the desire to meet demand and ship new products has created problems, with reports of vulnerabilities in IoT products, including children’s toys, light bulbs, routers and more.

Vendors are rushing products out without thinking about security implications, and as with smartphones, many users simply aren’t aware of the security implications of the IoT — if they even know the appliance they bought is connected to the internet in the first place. Clearly, IoT security is an issue that needs to be dealt with now, not further down the line.

The IoT future is now

“People still talk about IoT as if it’s the future, which it isn’t — it’s here and now. These devices are being rolled out in many different contexts by many different people in different conditions,” said Steve Purser, Head of Core Operations Department at ENISA, the European Union agency for network and information security.

The agency is working alongside the private sector in order to establish a common policy framework for IoT security that reflects the concerns of the industry and provides a set of suggestions for policy makers. ENISA isn’t shying away from the difficulty of the task at hand.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in being vigilant and ensuring we minimise negative consequences” said Purser. “The challenges of IoT are as such that it significantly changes the scale of operations — instead of talking about millions devices, we’re talking billions of devices, it’s huge.” Purser also warned that, as the IoT sector continues to grow, “Time-scales are going to become much more rapid, time-to-market is going to be much shorter.”

There’s also the fundamental problem of how IoT devices are made and what can be built into them. Many will consist of a computer chip wired into an everyday device, and simply won’t have the capacity to be locked down the way a PC can.

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