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Eight ways to secure your data on IoT devices

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Internet of Things is growing at a rapid pace since the last couple of years. Though the technology is not a new phenomenon, its current popularity is unprecedented. To define it, internet of things simply refers to devices or objects that are connected to the internet. Some examples of these devices are your smartwatches, refrigerators, Fitbit etc.

A recent study found that 86 per cent of enterprises are expected to increase their IoT spending in 2019 and beyond. Another study, Unlocking Opportunities in Internet of Things, predicts that the combined markets of IoT will double from $235B in 2017 to become approximately $520B in 2021. These studies point to the burgeoning market of internet of things.

Without any doubt, internet of things presents lots of exciting opportunities and ideas for innovation. Having said that, what many people might not realise is the extent of privacy and security risks associated with this technology. For that matter any device that shares a wireless connection faces the risk of security breach of one kind or the other.  If an unauthorised person gains access to your device, they can manipulate the functioning of the device or even access data about your habits.

First, let’s briefly look into how you can secure your IoT devices.

How to secure your IoT devices

Before you get an IoT device or solution, first ensure that it is secure by design. This might not be feasible in some environments because of factors such as legacy products, price points or just because you don’t have enough details on how or if they are secured.

You should reconsider acquiring an IoT device if the provider is unable to supply adequate information about the security approach of the device. In case, your IoT devices are already in place, security can be built around it. This is a usual occurrence in environments that has legacy products.

You should also make sure that the manufacturer of your IoT device/s is able to provide timely patches and updates for the entire lifeline of the device. A lot of security vulnerabilities are revealed after the product has entered the market. As the lifetime for IoT devices can be as long as 10 to 20 years, its manufacturer should be able to provide you with its patches and updates for that duration.

Following are the eight effective ways in which you can secure your data on IoT devices.

How to secure your data on IoT devices

#1 Understand the Advantages of Connecting to the Internet

Don’t connect your smart device to the internet just because it has the capability. First you should check what features are available in your device without connecting it to the internet. You might discover that your smart device has good features which are available without internet connection. In that scenario, it is better to use the device offline. This is a good way of protecting your security without having to spend anything. 

#2 Use Secondary Network

Most of the time, your WIFI router is capable of creating multiple networks which helps you to create restricted access for your family and your guests. You should also think of creating an extra network just for your internet of things devices. This will help you to curb unauthorised access to your sensitive data when you are accessing your connection through your smart devices. Having a separate connection to act like a buffer will help to ensure that no outside entity is allowed to access your shared files and other kinds of encrypted data.

#3 Keep Changing your Passwords

It is important that you keep changing your passwords on your PC’s, individual accounts and mobile devices. You must be knowing this. What you should also remember is that it is equally important to change the passwords you use on your internet of things devices. You should be diligent with these passwords and ensure that each device has a unique password. You can use a password manager to remember your passwords or even use the traditional method of pen and paper. Remember that every password must be changed twice every year.

#4 Don’t Enable Universal Plug & Play Features

Nearly all smart devices have a feature, called as UPnP. With this feature, different devices can find one another and connect to each other. This features makes the devices more convenient because you don’t need to configure each of these devices separately. What you need to be aware, however is that UPnP protocols make use of local networks for connecting and are thus vulnerable to outside access. In case there is an attack, outside entities might be able to gain access to multiple devices simultaneously. Hence, it is a good practice to turn off the UPnP feature on every device.

#5 Update your every Device

You should enable automatic updates, if it is available and in its absence, check regularly for firmware updates. This is necessary as this is the way new security patches are installed on your devices. As hackers and other intruders are consistently coming up with new ways to hack IoT devices, technology manufacturers are involved in the constant effort to counteract such threats with security measures. Thus, making sure that all your devices are updated will help to strengthen the security in your house as a whole.

#6 Reduce your use of Cloud Technology

As you might know, most IoT providers provide free cloud storage with their devices. The reason for this is that it is considered as emerging technology. However, there are some potential drawbacks with this technology. The first one is that you need an active connection if you want to access the data that you store in the cloud; that information cannot be accessed without a connection. Secondly, outsiders might be able to hack into your connection as you are accessing your account. So, before you start using the cloud, make sure that you are familiar with the ways to secure your data and thoroughly understand the privacy measures.

#7 Be Careful of Where you Take your Wearables

Wearable devices use WIFI connectivity to collect and store personal data, so that it can later provide you with an accurate analytics. Hence, when you take your wearable device to a public place, as it connects with the public WIFI, your data becomes instantly accessible to whoever is connecting to the same network. So, it is a safe bet to avoid taking you wearables which has a shared network. In case you do take it, ensure that you disable the device when you are not using it.

# 8 Avoid using Devices that are Risky

There are some IoT devices that needs to be constantly connected to the internet to operate effectively. There are also some that does not bring as much efficiency to your life as you had thought of. It is, therefore a good practice to evaluate the usefulness of your devices from time to time. If you feel that they don’t add anything to your life or if they seem risky, better discard them. Additionally, if there is a single device that can replace several others, invest in that device. This is because the smaller number of devices that you use, the less is the risk factor.

Bonus - Security Measures after the Breach

If you are experiencing or have experienced a security breach, following are some steps that you can take to cushion its effects and make sure that you are safeguarded in the future:

Before you try to regain control of the whole system, try to reach for and guard the critical data faster. Critical data can be anything from a business’ financial records, credit card details consumers’ passwords, and the like.

Try to separate the breached section from others. You can do that by changing the secure section’s password and then you have to activate the two-factor authentication as well

You should immediately notify all the parties who can be affected by the security breach, so that they can employ security measures of their own.

After every breach, you should try to understand what went wrong, which of your security measures were vulnerable and what you are doing wrong. Then you should work to fix that.

Conclusion

Using devices that depend on IoT has a lot of advantages. It can make our life more convenient and provides access to data that otherwise would not be available to us. However, like with other technologies IoT has its own share of risks. It is necessary that you are aware of these risks and take action to protect yourself against it.

Vibhuthi Viswanathan, content curator, SpringPeople