Advanced Message Protocols: The Next Security Challenge for IoT Implementation

August 30, 2018

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the buzzword today. The cutting-edge technology has gained exceptional momentum in various spheres such as banking, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, consumer goods, etc. IoT has been connecting millions of devices, empowering data tracking & analysis like never before. Businesses globally are looking for possible IoT applications to connect to devices for remote monitoring & control.

It is inevitable that the potential of the Internet of Things is massive. Based on several predictions over the years, the number of Internet-connected devices will reach ‘tens of billions’ by 2020. A whopping $19 trillion is expected as revenue-generation & cost savings from IoT investments. This provides a lucrative opportunity for service providers to leverage new revenue sources, delivering superior customer experience, data protection, user safety and privacy.

(Source: Statista)

IoT Data Connectivity Protocols

The question arises – how will these connected “things” seamlessly communicate between the cloud, service providers and end nodes? Getting billions of devices to connect is no small deed, particularly when there are devices that are remotely deployed, low-cost, and infrequently serviced. The devices also feature network constraints and may have limited power consumption or computing resources.

To make IoT data connectivity efficient, smart and economical, two protocols have been widely adopted: Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) and Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP).  Both the protocols support communication from Internet-based resourceful devices to the ones that have resource limitations and based on IoT. While both are powered by high-end SSL or TLS encryption, still there are network vulnerabilities that pose a big challenge for IoT implementation.

Security Challenges Working with IoT Message Protocols

(Source: HP)

1) More Connected Devices Mean More Security Threats

One of the biggest security weaknesses of IoT is that it continues to add more devices beyond what can be protected by your network’s firewall. A few decades back, you only had to worry about securing your computers or Smartphones. Today, IoT has posed the challenge of protecting your wearables, cars, home appliances and other devices. And your firewall may not be capable of handling too many devices.

More connected devices also mean having more hackers accomplish their malpractices. From remotely controlling your car to hacking thermostat to unveil private information, hackers have more to do now.  

2) Lack of Advanced Encryption System

MQTT and CoAP were designed to be exceptionally lightweight to facilitate connectivity for resource-constrained devices. This makes them less secure beyond TCP and SSL. For instance, MQTT suggests that TLS protocol to be used only for applications that have additional authentication levels as well. So, communications that are based completely on TCP stand unencrypted and prone to security threats.

3) Not Having Optimum Authentication

Another negative aspect is their minimal authentication features. Username and password are sent in clear text, without any form of encryption.

4) Absence of Device Interoperability

Lack of interoperability is another security challenge that businesses face while implementing the Internet of Things. According to Gartner, IoT security is most undervalued recently, with a majority of service providers trying to win the scenario with lightweight protocols and user-friendliness.

5) Lack of Device Updates

You would admit it that tech companies typically offer first few rounds of product or software update. Once they start focusing on launching a new device, yours become an old-fashioned hardware, prone to security vulnerabilities. So, an IoT device which was once safe when you bought it may become a threat as hackers find new ways.

6) Unable to Protect Your Data from Companies

Remembers, hackers are not the only threat to your private information fed into connected devices. Even the companies that manufacture or distribute IoT devices could have access to your personal data, and particularly bank details.

End-to-End Application Security for Effective IoT Implementation

The Internet of Things is a rewarding business opportunity for service providers. However, one of the biggest challenges that IoT industry faces is security. Despite of leveraging TLS to secure MQTT, there are other security threats that need to be taken care of. This can be achieved by:

  • Implementing end-to-end IoT application security with stringent authorisation, rigorous device authentication and rigid network protocols to access communication paths

(Source: F5 )

  • Combining multiple encryption systems such as SSL, TLS and SPA. A Single-Packet Authorisation Scheme is also useful for securing communications in resource-constrained devices
  • IoT message protocols should constantly update cryptographic keys to greatly enhance security
  • Designing and implementing an interoperable messaging system
  • Setting up a configurable IoT platform as Simnovus does, testing all the components of IoT network  

Simnovus: Minimise IoT Security Threats with a Configurable Platform

Any IoT platform needs rigorous performance testing, security testing and validation to ensure its full potential. Simnovus helps minimise security breaches by simulating millions of devices to monitor the capability of the IoT server, SSL/TLS encryption and authentication procedures.

Using this tool one can verify use cases by sending communication traffic to the simulated network or devices. It is a full-proof system to verify whether the IoT message protocol is able to deliver security against port scans, DDoS, botnet and other vulnerabilities. This is how it operates:

(Source: Simnovus)

IoT platform testing before implementation is a good step to mitigate the security challenges. Other support features of Simnovus IoT Client Simulator are:

  • Comprehensive support for MQTT, including QoS levels, MQTT Authentication & Clean Session; works seamlessly with all standard brokers
  • It has reusable templates and place holders to help create unique & dynamic networks for your devices
  • Helps simulate behaviour in real-time, transforming incoming messages and different messages as different clients
  • To simulate real-world IoT devices, you can send dynamic values in messages via JSON format     
  • It has bulk device creation option with multiple templates to help create thousands of devices quickly
  • Control IoT simulation by integrating Simnovus IoT Client Simulator via REST APIs

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