Securing the IoT: 4 rules for product developers

Callum Barnes, product owner, Xively by LogMeIn

Believe it or not, we are living in the IoT era. What felt so futuristic only a few short years ago is here now — and it is here to stay.

Analyst firms are predicting that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use by the end of this year and that number is expected to skyrocket to 25 billion by 2020. These numbers are very attractive to both entrepreneurs and big businesses looking to make their mark in IoT. Today, nearly every company is working out an IoT strategy and it is very likely that connectivity will be a component of all new products in one way or another, says Callum Barnes, product owner, Xively by LogMeIn.

The excitement around IoT is bringing amazing innovations to market – but there is some concern that the rush to be first may result in less than ideal application development. The US Department of Homeland Security is so worried about the security of IoT products that it recently set up its Silicon Valley Office’s (SVO) first remit, which is to look for solutions to IoT security. While they are working on that, there are some steps you can take right now while developing a connected product. When looking at a potential IoT project, ask yourself if it meets these rules for development:Group Of Business People Working And Global Networking Themed Images Above

Rule #1: Weigh the pros & cons

Before embarking on any project, designers should weigh the pros and cons of creating a connected product or features. What security holes does it open up? A good way to do this is to apply the STRIDE threat-modelling framework, originally developed by Microsoft. It provides a way to rigorously asses the security implications of specific smart features. While it may decrease the speed of development at the start, it will save a lot of heartache and brand tarnishing if something goes wrong.

Rule #2: Put safety first

It is not enough to have great security, IoT devices and systems must be designed with compromise in mind. For devices that have critical applications including automobiles and medical devices, safety should always be the primary development concern. However, this is a good rule of thumb for all device development. Devices should ensure that critical functions of the device could not be affected or compromised by ‘smart’ features.

Rule #3: Don’t believe in security through obscurity

Products must be designed with the assumption that they will be purchased, dissected and studied. One of the most common mistakes at the development phase is the assumption that hackers will not be interested enough in the product to find and exploit security flaws. Security shortcuts such as improperly embedded private keys or weak authentication might save time and speed up deployment, but being first to market won’t mean a heck of a lot if your company is splashed all over the newspapers for a security breach.

Rule #4: Authenticate, authenticate, authenticate

As much as we may hate the hassle of changing passwords, setting a user password once is not enough to secure a device. Device level security is required to ensure your product is truly secure. The IoT is bringing about new ways to secure physical devices originally only used for military or government assets. Hardware security chips (such as TPM) allow devices to securely authenticate themselves by using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), the same technology used to secure online banking and other important transactions (HTTPS). This ensures your users data is safe and secure and can help companies prevent clones or fraudulent devices.Security concept: pixelated Locks icon on digital background, 3d render

As we embark in this new era of IoT, many companies are learning that building, running and supporting a connected product is not as easy as it may seem. As with most things, speed does not equal quality. Tackling security and privacy risks is a multifaceted challenge and any business looking to design and deploy applications must wrap a robust security policy around every decision. For those new to IoT, platform-as-a-service companies can help businesses address security and data integrity issues. Even for the most experienced product companies, finding the right IoT partner can help you avoid serious pitfalls and ensure you are delivering a quality product to the market.

The author of the blog is Callum Barnes, product owner, Xively by LogMeIn.

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