IoT Security: Threat to an Opportunity

The promise of connected things has finally started to make itself felt. Carriers are busy launching their IoT offerings preparing for the massive burst of growth as the adoption of connected devices begins to outstrip that of mobile handsets.  From fleet tracking telemetry to home alert systems, the use cases have been endless and many carriers are already seeing significant revenue generation.  Competitive carriers who cover underserved regions now have an advantage in these areas, with massive potential for rural based industries such as farming and resource extraction.

One threat to this revenue source is the increased incidence of security breaches enabled by weak security on IoT devices, as evidenced by the Mirai malware and attacks which gained notoriety earlier this year.  Whether it’s webcams or heating supply, smart connected devices with limited resources have become a prime target and have resulted in severe impact to some carriers’ reputations and bottom line.   Carriers, vendors and regulators are working tirelessly to define methods to avoid these sorts of impacts.

But what if these threats are also an opportunity for adding value to the simple connectivity proposition?  Carriers should be more than an IoT data pipe, and can be, by providing value added services to their connectivity packages such as IoT security solutions.

While security should be inherent in the design of mobile networks, the purpose of these offerings is to provide enterprise customers with Visibility & Control over the security of their devices.  The three key elements to that end are:

  • Acceptable Use Policies
  • Prevention of Malware Infection
  • Identifying & Quarantining Infected Devices.

 Acceptable Use Policies

Most industrial IoT devices communicate within a set traffic profile, to specific control servers, at specific times, and using specific protocols.  By defining the profile as an enforceable policy carriers can help prevent anomalous behavior.  Allowing enterprise IoT customers to configure their own Acceptable Use Policies can reduce the attack surface, preventing the majority of attacks from occurring in the first place. These should range from simple rules templates to rich configuration capabilities for the most sophisticated customer admins.

Prevention of Malware Infection

Many IoT devices will communicate on open channels with the Internet and are often subject to malicious traffic.  Malware, spyware and ransomware are even more of a threat to IoT than they are to consumer mobile devices, given the limited on-board ability to handle these attacks.  Therefore infections must be prevented by network based devices, through inspection of traffic for malware. However the key to generating value is to ensure that enterprise customers are aware of the protection through reporting and alerting of prevented attacks.

Identify & Quarantine Infected Devices

Once devices are infected, the intention of such a solution would be to prevent harm to both the enterprise customer and the carrier network itself.  Botnets emanating from a carrier network can damage reputation and also result in blacklisting in some extreme cases.  Detection of anomalous behavior should block or limit traffic from malfunctioning devices to avoid these instances. Once again customers must be made aware of the quarantining of devices through notifications to understand the value provided by the service.

Finally all of these capabilities should be available via a carrier-branded portal for easy provisioning of new devices.  This will also offer a frictionless onboarding experience to ensure new enterprise customers enjoy a smooth transition and excellent first impression.

As the uses of IoT technology proliferate, so will the security concerns of carriers and their customers.  Embrace these challenges to generate new revenue streams as we enter the next phase of the mobile data evolution.

This post was originally published as an article in the Fall / Winter 2017 edition of The CCA Voice, the publication of the Competitive Carriers Association, which can be found here.

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