UK 'near the bottom of league tables' on IoT security

News by Mark Mayne

New report reveals UK is particularly exposed to IoT security failings, in spite of industry guidelines introduced by government last year.

A massive six in ten UK organisations can’t tell If their IoT devices have been breached by hackers or not, according to a new study by Gemalto.

Flipping the figures around, while 42 percent of UK organisations can detect IoT device breaches, this is the second lowest in Europe after France, at 36 percent. This might be connected to the fact that UK spending on IoT protection is lower than the global average (11 percent of IoT budgets).

Jason Hart, CTO of data protection at Gemalto, told SC Media UK: "The simple fact is that lack of investment in properly securing IoT devices means that the UK not only continues to struggle on IoT security, but that it’s left itself wide open to attack from cyber criminals."

He added: "British organisations must start looking at how they protect themselves, focussing on spending in the right areas in order to protect what matters with the increasing amounts of sensitive data IoT devices now produce. This means investing in applying the correct security controls such as encryption, key management and user and device authentication which enables that correct level of security to protect the data whether it’s in transit or at rest and accessing both the data and the device at all times."

On the bright side, awareness is growing, with spend on protection rising in just the last year, from 11 percent of IoT budget in 2017 to 13 percent now, while nearly three times as many respondents now see IoT security as an ethical responsibility (14 percent), compared to a year ago (four percent), according to Gemalto’s survey of 950 IT and business decision makers globally.

Organisations worldwide are seeking help when securing the IoT, with most businesses (95 percent) in the global study asking for more security regulations in the IoT industry.

With such a big task in hand, businesses are calling for governmental intervention because of the challenges they see in securing connected devices and IoT services. This is particularly mentioned for data privacy (38 percent) and the collection of large amounts of data (34 percent). Protecting an increasing amount of data is proving an issue, with only three in five (59 percent) of those using IoT and spending on IoT security admitting they encrypt all of their data.

Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic, told SC: "These statistics on the shocking state of IoT security come as no surprise at all – many organisations do not even know they have IoT deployed. This confirms they are not actively discovering IoT devices or even attempting to manage them, so it is not surprising that they are not being properly secured, or even worse, the default security settings are not changed including the default passwords."

He added: "Many organisations are spending blindly on IoT devices as suppliers do not make it clear what security features are available and they mostly focus on ease of use, sacrificing security by design. Regulations are surely coming and will likely force vendors to display, inform or even go as far as ensuring security best practices are easy to enable and use."

The UK Government introduced the Internet of Things (IoT) security code of practice (CoP) for manufacturers and developers last last year, and although the guidelines have been well received, implementing them will take some time. Of those firms that have committed to implementation, HP and Centrica Hive have said it may be 2021 before they can fully implement the CoP.

Anna Russell, VP at comforte AG, told SC that increased regulation was likely.

"The numbers send two very clear messages," she said. "Firstly, the UK needs to step up in terms of their IoT investments and efforts. Secondly, with such strong support for regulations on IoT security, it is only a matter of time until we see something emerging here. Until such a new regulation comes to life, organisations worldwide should focus at least to make sure that they have a data-centric security strategy in place for protecting sensitive data in their IoT environments."

In the interim, the study found that the industry is seeking to self-regulate, with a surprising contender emerging. Adoption of blockchain has doubled from 9 percent to 19 percent in the last 12 months. Not only that, but a quarter (23 percent) of respondents to the Gemalto survey believe that blockchain technology would be an ideal solution to use for securing IoT devices, with 91 percent of organisations that don’t currently use the technology likely to consider it in the future.

Chris Doman, security researcher at AlienVault, was not impressed: "I don't see how adding blockchain to IoT will make the devices any more secure, I'd hoped we were past the point of saying blockchain will fix everything! The main problems we see are known default passwords on things like webcams and other devices, and we see attackers regularly scanning the internet to find them. It's unlikely things will improve until device manufacturers are more liable for security failures."

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