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The security minefield of the Internet of Things

When IoT devices run on outdated firmware or do not get updated regularly, they become easy targets for cybercriminals.

More and more restaurants and coffee houses offer internet connection in a breeze for their customers. — © Digital Journal
More and more restaurants and coffee houses offer internet connection in a breeze for their customers. — © Digital Journal

In an era defined by connectivity, the ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ has revolutionised the way we interact with technology. From smart thermostats to wearable fitness trackers, IoT devices have seamlessly integrated into our homes and businesses, offering convenience, efficiency, and innovation. However, alongside these advancements comes a significant uptick in cybersecurity risks that you cannot ignore.

Trevor Cooke, the online privacy expert at EarthWeb, has explained to Digital Journal about some practical advice on how individuals can protect themselves and their data.

Addressing Firmware Vulnerability Exploits

When IoT devices run on outdated firmware or do not get updated regularly, they become easy targets for cybercriminals.

Cooke explains: “Imagine your device as a house with a lock that hasn’t been changed in years – it’s an invitation for burglars. By making sure your device’s software is always up-to-date, you can patch up those security holes and keep the bad guys out.”

Countering Credential-Based Attacks And Physical Hardware Threats

Using weak passwords or sticking with default ones is like leaving the front door to your IoT device wide open. Combine that with flimsy locks (inadequate device authentication mechanisms), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Hackers can waltz right in and wreak havoc.

Cooke warns against this, suggesting you beef up your security with strong passwords and better authentication methods to keep your devices safe from unauthorised access and tampering.

Digital variable speed-limit sign. Image by ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Building Fortresses Around Your Devices: DNS Filtering

In terms of proactive actions, Cooke recommends: “The Domain Name System is like the Internet’s phone book. It translates human-readable domain names (like google.com) into IP addresses (like 172.217.9.238), which computers use to communicate with each other over the internet.”

In addition, Cooke explains: “DNS filtering works by intercepting DNS lookup requests from devices on your network and checking them against a list of known malicious or unwanted domain names.”

In terms of how this works, Cooke states: “When a user tries to access a website, their device sends a DNS lookup request to a DNS server. If the requested domain is found on the blocklist, the DNS server returns a response indicating that the website is unreachable, effectively blocking access. You can use this to block access to unsafe sites for anyone on your network.”

Other defensive measures recommended by Cooke are:

  • Enhancing Device Authentication And Encryption: Start by enabling two-factor authentication on your devices.
  • Implementing Network Security Measures: This involves setting up firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and virtual private networks (VPNs) to monitor and control the traffic entering and leaving your network.
  • Continuous Monitoring And Incident Response: Proactive monitoring systems are like having security cameras installed around your home, keeping an eye out for any unusual activity in your IoT environment.
  • Promoting Educational Initiatives And Awareness Programs: Educating yourself and others about IoT security best practices is key to staying safe in the digital age.
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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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