Implementing Zero-trust to IoT Solutions

Written by: Anthony Moffa

Read Time: 6 min

What is zero-trust security?

Zero-trust security is a cybersecurity approach of denying access to an organization’s digital resources. In a zero-trust security model, every user and device must be authenticated and authorized before being granted access to digital resources or data. Even users within a network are required to go through multiple layers of authentication and authorization. Zero-trust security minimizes the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches by continuously verifying and validating users and devices throughout their entire session, as traditional security measures no longer provide sufficient protection in today's evolving threat landscape.

What is zero-trust in IoT?

In the Internet of Things (IoT), zero-trust refers to a security approach that treats all network devices or users as suspect. Unlike traditional security models that rely on trusted networks and perimeters, zero-trust in IoT emphasizes the need for continuous verification and validation of all devices, users, and connections within a network. With more connected devices in IoT ecosystem, ensuring security is essential to prevent unauthorized access, potential cyber threats, and risks of data breaches. Zero-trust in IoT aims to protect sensitive data and systems by implementing strict access controls, authentication mechanisms, and monitoring techniques, regardless of the location or network where the devices are connected.

Why is zero-trust needed for IoT devices?

Zero-trust is necessary because IoT devices are often connected to networks that have access to sensitive data and limited security features, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks and compromises. Zero-trust security ensures that every device is treated as potentially untrusted and requires continuous authentication and authorization, regardless of location or network. By implementing zero-trust, organizations can better protect their IoT devices and collected data, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and potential breaches.

What are the requirements for zero-trust IoT solutions?

Strong identity to authenticate devices

With more IoT devices being integrated into various critical systems and networks, a strong identity to authenticate devices is a crucial requirement to ensure that their authenticity and integrity becomes essential to prevent unauthorized access and potential security breaches. By establishing a strong identity authentication mechanism, organizations can verify the validity of any device attempting to connect to their network.

This authentication process enables the implementation of strict access controls so that only authenticated devices are granted access to network resources. The unique identity of each device provides a clear trail of actions and transactions, allowing organizations to monitor and audit device activities. This enables swift identification and response time to any suspicious or malicious behavior within the network for the overall integrity and security of the system. A strong identity authentication system is vital for zero-trust IoT solutions, as the foundation for establishing trust and ensuring secure communication between devices and the network.

Control access to mitigate blast radius

Blast radius refers to the potential extent of damage caused by a security incident and control access to mitigate blast radius is a requirement for zero-trust IoT solutions because it is essential to prevent unauthorized access to critical systems and minimize the potential impact of any security breaches. In a zero-trust environment, where trust is never assumed and access is granted on a need-to-know basis, controlling access becomes crucial for protecting IoT devices and the sensitive data they manage. Organizations can ensure that only authorized and authenticated individuals or devices are granted access to the IoT network by implementing access controls. By limiting access to specific devices or services based on policies and privileges, the scope of a potential breach is contained, thereby minimizing the impact on the entire network. This proactive measure helps enhance the security posture of IoT solutions and safeguards against unauthorized actions or malicious activities that may compromise the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of critical assets.

Monitor device health and flag devices for remediation

In zero-trust IoT solutions, monitoring device health and flagging devices for remediation are essential requirements, as the security risks associated with these devices have also increased. Monitoring the health of IoT devices allows organizations to identify any vulnerabilities or potential threats in real-time. By continuously monitoring device health, organizations can detect any unauthorized activities, anomalous behaviors, or software vulnerabilities that may compromise the security of the entire network. Flagging devices for remediation ensures that any identified issues are addressed promptly to mitigate the risk and prevent further exploitation. It enables organizations to take proactive measures such as applying security patches or firmware updates to ensure the devices are running with the latest security measures.

Consistent device health updates 

Consistent device health updates are a crucial requirement for zero-trust IoT solutions because they play a fundamental role in maintaining the security and integrity of the interconnected devices. With the increasing number of IoT devices being connected to networks, the potential attack surface also expands, making it more challenging to ensure the security of these devices. By regularly updating device health, organizations can address known vulnerabilities, patch security flaws, and implement necessary security measures to protect against emerging threats. In a zero-trust environment, where each device must constantly prove its identity and trustworthiness before gaining access to resources, consistent device health updates are essential to verify that the devices are operating under a secure and up-to-date environment. Without regular updates, devices might become vulnerable to attacks, compromising the overall security of the entire IoT ecosystem. Additionally, consistent device health updates allow organizations to detect abnormal behavior or anomalies, enabling proactive identification and mitigation of potential security breaches or unauthorized access attempts.

Proactive security monitoring

Proactive security monitoring helps to identify and respond to potential security threats in real time. In an IoT ecosystem where numerous devices are connected and constantly exchanging data, there is an increased risk of vulnerabilities and potential breaches. A zero-trust approach to IoT security operates under the assumption that no device or user can be inherently trusted, and every interaction must be verified and authorized. By implementing proactive security monitoring, organizations can continuously monitor and analyze network traffic, device behavior, and user activity to detect any suspicious or unauthorized activities. This real-time monitoring allows for immediate action to be taken, such as isolating compromised devices or blocking unauthorized access, reducing the potential impact of security incidents. Proactive security monitoring also helps to enhance the overall visibility and control over the IoT environment, enabling organizations to proactively identify and address vulnerabilities, patch security flaws, and enforce security policies effectively. In a zero-trust architecture, where trust is never assumed, proactive security monitoring is a critical component in maintaining a secure and reliable IoT infrastructure.

What are the challenges of implementing zero-trust for IoT?

Unmanaged devices and trust

One of the biggest challenges in implementing a zero-trust model for IoT is the presence of unmanaged devices. There can be a multitude of devices in IoT ecosystems from different manufacturers and vendors, each with its own security protocols and vulnerabilities. These devices may not be centrally managed or updated, which can make it difficult to enforce strict security measures and trust levels where unmanaged devices can become entry points for cyberattacks that compromise the entire IoT network. Trust also becomes a challenge in the context of IoT due to the diverse nature of devices and their varying levels of security as a fundamental component of zero-trust architecture, where every entity or device accessing the network needs to be verified and authenticated. Addressing these challenges requires implementing robust device management practices and leveraging advanced authentication and encryption techniques. It is essential to have continuous monitoring and updates for all devices in the IoT ecosystem to ensure their security and compliance with established trust levels. Establishing standards and protocols for device manufacturers to follow can also help ensure that all devices meet minimum security requirements, facilitating better trust within the IoT network.

Securing corporate networks 

Securing corporate networks is a significant challenge when it comes to implementing a zero-trust model for IoT. The IoT involves a vast and diverse network of interconnected devices, each with its own vulnerabilities and potential entry points for cyberattacks. With a zero-trust approach, which inherently distrusts every device and connection, it becomes crucial to ensure that all endpoints in a corporate network are adequately secured. This includes adopting strong authentication protocols, encrypting data transmissions, and constantly monitoring and updating security measures. However, the sheer scale and complexity of IoT networks can make it difficult to identify and address potential security gaps. Furthermore, as IoT devices often have limited processing power and storage capacity, implementing robust security protocols may present technical limitations. Despite these challenges, securing corporate networks is essential to establish a foundation of trust within a zero-trust framework, ensuring that potential vulnerabilities in IoT devices do not compromise the overall network security.

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Tags: Thingworx Remote Service Digital Transformation Predictive Maintenance Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Anthony Moffa

Anthony Moffa is a Senior Director within PTC’s ThingWorx Product Management team.  He has extensive experience, designing, manufacturing and implementing diagnostic systems in a variety of industries including aerospace, nuclear power and petrochemical.  Prior to joining PTC he was responsible for the design and implementation of 2 IoT programs, one in life safety and the other in the life sciences arenas.  He has been a long-time contributor to service research advisory councils managed by Aberdeen and The Service Council, holds a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Villanova University and has multiple Six Sigma certifications.