Internet of things or IoT devices have become very popular in the last few years, and that has many security implications. The convenience of conference room control panels in the office or even smart light bulbs that you can control from your phone in your living room is great, but proper planning and setup are important for all of these devices.
The thing that a lot of people do not understand is that every one of the myriads of smart devices on the market all contain a simple computer and that computer does not have the benefit of a firewall or antivirus software like your laptop. This means that all the security is based on your network. In the last couple of years, hackers have been finding ways to breach these devices and use them as entry points. There was an article that explained how someone managed to install malware into the firmware of a smart light bulb and use that to then install more malicious software throughout the rest of the network. Remember, these IoT devices connect to your Wi-Fi, which means that if not properly secured, they can connect to your PC.
Many of the things required to keep IoT devices secure are the same things you should do on any network, like have a strong password on your wireless network using the strongest version of encryption it is capable of and, though few people do this on their home network, keep the firmware of your network switches, firewall, and wireless access points up to date. In addition to that, you should also research devices before you bring them into your home or office. Some IoT devices are simple to set up with an app where you discover the device, give it your Wi-Fi password, and you are done. Generally, you do not want this, because if it’s that easy for you to connect to the device, it’s just as easy for the neighbor or the guy sitting in a car outside to communicate with them. Some of the better devices have the option during setup to change the default password from the configuration. You should always change the default password and make it something unique. Skipping this step is what has lead to stories in the news where someone’s Wi-Fi camera or baby monitor was breached and had unknown third parties watching and even talking through the devices.
A more advanced option that should be used in any office with IoT devices (and is also available on some of the better home network equipment) is to put all of your smart devices on a VLAN. VLAN stands for virtual local area network and is exactly that. Network IP addresses have specific other addresses they can talk to directly without going through a firewall or router. For example, the IP address 192.168.1.20 can basically talk to any other 192.168.1.xxx IP on an average home network, but it can’t talk with 192.168.2.xxx. If you were to try, the computer making the request would ask a router or firewall how to reach that address and would then be relayed. You can then put rules in place to limit what type of traffic can be sent between those two networks. A VLAN’s advantage is that multiple virtual networks can exist on the same physical wiring and Wi-Fi.
Security in a business network has been of high importance for years, but today, with the number of smart devices and complex networks we are putting in our homes, it is more important than ever to research what you are buying and installing as well as brush up on some of the basics of networking in order to keep your home and family safe. IoT devices make our lives easier and even more fun, but as with any technology that can talk to the rest of the world, they must be viewed with a critical eye.