Securing Connections in the Cloud and Across All Your IoT Devices

By Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, Vice President, Global Field CISO Team, Fortinet

The hyper-connected, global marketplace of the 21st century has shifted the landscape for networking and security. Two prevalent trends in this area—cloud adoption and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT)—are seemingly two different components of digital transformation, with separate purposes and scope. However, they actually work together, fueling one another in the digital ecosystem. This symbiotic relationship has important implications when it comes to deploying, using, and securing cloud services and the IoT. 

As the number of IoT devices grows, so does the amount of data that they generate. This is in addition to the massive stores of data that are already being amassed by businesses, governments, and even individuals – data that must be collected, processed, mined, and stored. Take, for example, the use of sensors in warehouses where inventory can be tracked. This technology provides managers with essential data on purchasing trends so they are better equipped to manage inventory, especially on fast-selling items. Similar devices in retail locations provide information not just about inventory, but everything from temperatures in refrigeration units to customer purchasing trends.

IoT sensors installed on manufacturing equipment provide production managers with critical information. Environmental data from these sensors signal evidence of wear and tear on expensive equipment, alerting managers about maintenance before that equipment fails and costs the organization millions of dollars in lost productivity. 

As a result of these and other use cases, organizations are finding that in order to keep up with the massive amounts of data they are amassing, they need to act fast and build out their data management resources. For many, this comes in the form of a standard, two-pronged solution: easily scalable cloud data centers and high-performing infrastructures developed to support data mining for critical information. 

An Increased Digital Footprint Results in Increased Risk

One of the top challenges associated with IoT adoption is security. Botnets are the most common IoT cyber threat, causing Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks like the notorious Mirai, which infected tens of thousands of IoT devices before causing massive disruption. 

When compromised, IoT devices may do the following:  

  1. Intercept data being transmitted  
  2. Act as a vehicle for malware
  3. Fall under control of a botnet to carry out a specific, disruptive task such as DDoS

According to research conducted by the team at FortiGuard Labs, IoT devices were involved in half of the top 12 exploits last year. This is due primarily to the fact that most IoT devices are designed with fault code, no built-in security measures, and an inability to be updated even when network managers identify a vulnerability. 

IoT and the Cloud: A Uniquely Challenging Combination

Every IoT device is potentially another cloud connection, and every connection to the network represents yet another security vulnerability. So, what does this mean for your organization? As you develop new IoT assets and move to the cloud, your security strategies for both need to be in sync with one another. When an IoT device is compromised, your public and private clouds are at risk, and this can eventually affect your core network and even your customers. 

How to Secure IoT and Cloud Connections

There are six key considerations when it comes to securing IoT and cloud environments:

  1. Robust vulnerability management. Understanding what is on your network and the potential threats they pose is critical. Keeping track of your IoT devices ensures they can be updated with security patches (where possible), properly segmented and isolated, or protected using effective proximity controls that can offer defense in the case of an attack. 
  2. Compensating controls. By implementing proper controls, security teams can mitigate risks posed by those devices that can’t be updated. Proximity devices, including firewall and IPS systems, should be leveraged to ensure the inspection of data moving between IoT devices and the cloud. Additionally, behavior-based detection can be used to identify traffic discrepancies, such as the communication between botnet command and control centers.
  3. Encryption. This practice should be leveraged where possible to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data. 
  4. Hardened security at the cloud edge. Not all IoT environments are secure, so hardening the cloud network is essential. In addition to other mitigation efforts, avoiding DDoS attacks and malware is also a matter of inspecting traffic at the cloud edge.
  5. Integration and automation. The policies that govern security tools and the collection of security event data need to exist within the same management platform. This will ensure event correlation, consistent functionalities, reliable configuration delivery, and the orchestration and enforcement of policies all through a single pane of glass.
  6. Security plus performance. Security platforms must be consistently reliable, no matter the environment in which they are deployed. Regardless of whether they are deployed as a virtual instance or a physical appliance, they must be able to process large amounts of data without slowing down the collection and processing of critical data.

Final Thoughts

To maximize the benefits of digital transformation, organizations must employ effective security strategies for IoT devices and the cloud. A unified strategy that addresses both the cloud and IoT using advanced threat intelligence and automation is vital. This will secure critical connections moving forward and set your organization up for success in the modern marketplace. 

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