Protecting IoT devices from cyberattacks: A critical missing piece: Page 4 of 13

August 10, 2017 //By Alan Grau, Icon Labs
Protecting IoT devices from cyberattacks: A critical missing piece
When it comes to protecting IoT devices from cyber attacks, both device hardening and security appliance approaches each has its supporters, but there are trade-offs between “device-centric” and “appliance-centric.”

Secure communication

When most engineers think of security, they typically think of secure communication protocols such as SSL/TLS, SSH, and IPSec. In recent years, support for secure communication has been added to many embedded devices. While these protocols provide a first level of defence against protocol-based cyber attacks, they leave other attack vectors unprotected.

Security protocols are designed to protect against packet sniffing, man-in-the-middle attacks, replay attacks, and unauthorized attempts to communicate with the device, providing a good starting point for building secure devices.

Small IoT edge devices are adopting wireless protocols such as ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and other wireless and mesh networking protocols. These protocols have some built-in security. However, it is relatively weak and exploits have been published. Small IoT devices typically run on very low-cost, lower-power processors not supporting TLS or IPSec. For small edge devices, DTLS, which is TLS over UDP, can be used for secure communication.


Secure boot and secure firmware updates

Secure boot and secure firmware update capabilities ensure an IoT device is running authorized code from the device manufacturer preventing the installation of malware or code modified by hackers.

Figure 3: Secure boot ensures that hackers are unable to install malicious code on an IoT device.

Secure boot begins with a first-stage bootloader programmed into a protected or non-writable storage location on the device. This first-stage boot loader validates the authenticity of the second-stage boot loader. The second-stage boot loader, which can be more complex and may be stored in reprogrammable flash memory, repeats the process, verifying the operating system and applications are valid.

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