What Is IoT Security and Why Is It Important?

Written by: Anthony Moffa

Read Time: 11 min

What is IoT security?

Internet of Things (IoT) security refers to the measures and practices put in place to protect internet-connected devices and systems from potential threats and attacks. With devices ranging from smartphones and smart home devices to industrial machinery and healthcare equipment connected to the Internet, it is now crucial to ensure that these devices are secure. IoT security entails implementing information encryption, asset and server authentication, access controls, and intrusion detection systems to mitigate risks and vulnerabilities associated with IoT. Ensuring robust IoT security is essential to protect sensitive information, maintain privacy, and prevent unauthorized access or control of connected devices.

Why is IoT security important?

With the quantity of assets connected to the Internet, there is a higher risk of malicious attacks, unauthorized access, and data breaches that can result in serious consequences, including leakage of personal or sensitive data, and manipulation or control of connected devices or a business being shut down and held hostage. So, implementing strong security measures and protocols is imperative to safeguard the integrity and trustworthiness of IoT systems, and ensure a safer, more reliable digital ecosystem.

What are some common IoT security challenges?

Implementing good software hygiene

Most modern software is a combination of homegrown code and third-party applications and drivers. Vulnerabilities can be identified in any line or component of code. An example is operating system vendors like Microsoft, Apple, or Red Hat, all provide regular security updates to their operating systems. Some issues are based in their code, some are in drivers they incorporate from other vendors. Keeping track of all code issues, whether they are in your code or some vended content, and having the procedures to address the issues is critical to establishing a secure deployment of IoT software.

Lack of encryption

Unencrypted IoT devices are easy targets for hackers who know what vulnerabilities to look for to take control of devices and potentially cause widespread disruptions or use them as entry points into larger networks. Failure to encrypt IoT devices not only puts the devices themselves at risk but also compromises the privacy and security of the data they generate and transmit, potentially leading to unauthorized access and misuse of sensitive information. Encryption measures are crucial to safeguarding the IoT ecosystem from cyberattacks and maintaining the trust of users and businesses.

Encryption housekeeping

Leveraging encryption is not a binary step. Criminals, in this case hackers, when given enough time, can often defeat certain security barriers. Thus, diligence is required to either react, or possibly preempt these aggressive moves. Decades ago, TLS 1.0 was the standard for data encryption. That standard was improved to 1.1, then 1.2, and now 1.3. In early 2020, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all removed TLS 1.0 and 1.1 from their browsers because those protocols were deemed “cryptographically broken.” In other words, hackers were able to get around them. So just having encryption is not enough, you need to keep your encryption algorithms up to date.

Weak passwords

Weak passwords can be easily guessed or hacked, leaving IoT devices vulnerable to unauthorized access or control. This can lead to various security risks like data breaches and privacy violations. Strong, unique passwords ensure the security of IoT devices and protect against potential threats. Weak passwords can make it easier for hackers to gain access to other connected devices and networks, potentially leading to widescale security breaches. The other half of this is default user or super user accounts. These were common decades ago but are now restricted by laws in Europe and California. This basically addresses the old “Admin” account that had the default password “Password” and went into every system, so it was easy for the installer to configure, but it also makes it easy for almost anyone to get into the system.

Multiple connected devices

One compromised device can be a pathway to infiltrate an entire network, allowing hackers unauthorized access to sensitive information or control over critical systems. It is crucial for both organizations and individuals to implement robust security protocols and regularly update devices in workplaces and homes to prevent potential vulnerabilities. Regular training on cybersecurity best practices creates a culture of awareness, ensuring that employees and individuals understand and follow proper security protocols.

Common certs and keys

Prior to connectivity, assets never needed anything more than a model and serial number to make them unique. Once machines started talking on the Internet, they needed identification. Many organizations resorted to a common certificate and key shared across all connected devices, and a token which could uniquely identify the asset. The concern here is that if the certificate is compromised, all things are considered compromised, and all traffic is shutdown.

Resource constraints

Many IoT devices have limited processing power, memory, and battery life, making it difficult to implement strong security measures such as complex encryption algorithms and regular software updates. Resource constraints can also prevent IoT devices from running security scans or effectively monitoring for and responding to potential security breaches. These limitations can leave IoT devices vulnerable to cyberattacks, making them attractive targets for hackers looking to exploit weaknesses in their security. Manufacturers and developers need to find innovative solutions to balance security needs with the resource constraints of IoT devices.

Remote exposure

The obvious prerequisite for remote diagnostics and repair is connectivity and accessibility. This brings with it remote exposure and adds complexity to the IoT security landscape by requiring strong encryption, authentication mechanisms, and regular security updates to ensure IoT devices remain secure from remote threats. IoT devices connected to the Internet and accessible remotely are vulnerable to hackers who can control devices remotely, as well as unauthorized access and data breaches. With the increasing prevalence of remote work and IoT, there are new challenges for ensuring the security and privacy of data transmitted between remote devices and networks.

Age of the asset

Connected devices that have a lifespan of more than five years, which is significant in some segments, may have an issue with their operating system (OS). General purpose operating systems like Windows or Linux last about seven years. Sometimes you can update the OS on an existing PC, but older CPUs, audio, video, and disk access chips may not be supported. In the case of medical devices, any change to the OS will likely require a resubmission to listings agencies, which can present a challenge to security hygiene.

Lack of industry foresight

As more IoT devices are connected, and new devices are developed and released, the industry needs to anticipate and address security challenges to protect the connected assets and the intellectual property or user's data in them. Proactive steps don’t eliminate the threat of a breach, they can reduce the probability of one and possibly increase the ability to respond quickly and efficiently. Without proper industry foresight and proactive measures, the industry will likely face increased IoT security challenges and potential breaches. The rapid growth and interconnectedness of IoT devices create significant problems in terms of data and privacy protection. Industry should make investing in robust security measures a priority to stay ahead of potential threats and ensure the safety and trustworthiness of their IoT connected devices.

What are some IoT security best practices for protection?

Never stop improving/never assume

Most things in life, our homes, autos, and just about every product ever designed, require maintenance. IoT security is no exception. IoT products require regular reviews and maintenance. Regular does not mean “in response to” a threat like we saw with the Wanna Cry ransomware attack in 2017. It’s a scheduled, repetitive, proactive approach to keeping drivers, protocols, and third-party applications updated. It also means implementing regular vulnerability testing and even embarking upon a joint vulnerability disclosure program to engage “white hat” hackers. Security is now a core part of the product, not an accessory.

Introduce IoT security during the design phase

Considered a best practice for protecting IoT devices and networks, this approach allows for the identification and mitigation of potential security vulnerabilities early on, reducing the risk of unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats. Implementing IoT security during the design phase also enables devices with built-in defenses against known vulnerabilities and can provide a foundation for ongoing security updates and patches throughout the lifecycle. Organizations can ensure that security measures are integrated seamlessly into devices' functionality as well as operating procedures, minimizing the need for additional security layers or future modifications. This proactive approach enhances the security posture of IoT devices, saves time and resources, and costs less than addressing security issues post-deployment.

Develop a secure network

Organizations can safeguard their IoT devices from potential cyber threats and unauthorized access with a secure network implementing and validating authentication measures like strong passwords and multifactor authentication, encrypting data transmissions, regularly updating firmware and software, and monitoring network traffic for any anomalies. These security measures help protect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of IoT devices, and any data transmitted.

Educate employees

Employees can often be the gateway to threats entering your network. They should be trained in best practices for network, as well as IoT device security. These practices include creating strong passwords, practicing safe browsing habits, and regularly updating device firmware and software on corporate as well as personal devices to address potential vulnerabilities. When organizations get employees involved in the security process, it encourages awareness and vigilance for protecting your network, IoT devices, and sensitive data.

Use unique PKI and digital certificates on each asset

Public key infrastructure (PKI) is a framework to issue, maintain, and revoke digital certificates, which are electronic credentials that prove the authenticity of users, devices, servers, or websites. As noted above, the “traditional” PKI process basically puts the same certificate and key on every device. The improved model gives each asset its own certificate. As an example, if 100 people work in a building and they all have a physical key to the front door, any one of them can come in using the key. If one person quits or is fired and doesn’t turn in their key, they can still get in. Your only recourse is to change the locks on the building. Modern buildings use key cards that are unique per person, thus providing granular control over access. Device Authority provides each unique key by asset for granular, not global, control.

Secure API security

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are sets of defined rules that enable different applications to communicate with each other. Secure APIs can ensure that only authorized entities can access and interact with the IoT devices and their functionalities to prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and other potential security vulnerabilities. Secure APIs can also play an important role in data encryption and authentication mechanisms by further strengthening the overall security of communication between applications and IoT devices. Implementing secure APIs gives businesses peace of mind knowing that their sensitive data is protected and their IoT ecosystem is safeguarded against potential cyber threats.

Protect data storage

As IoT continues to expand and connect various devices and sensors, data is generated and stored at an unprecedented rate. Protecting data storage is an essential IoT security best practice to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access, data breaches, and compromised data integrity by encrypting data, implementing access controls, and regularly updating security protocols. Businesses and individuals need to keep current on the latest security protocols and technologies to ensure their IoT data is protected and to prevent any potential security vulnerabilities. Regular review and enhancement of security measures can help to stay a step ahead of cyber threats and maintain the integrity and confidentiality of IoT-generated data.

What industries are most vulnerable to IoT security threats?

Industries that heavily rely on IoT devices are most vulnerable to IoT security threats. For example, connected medical devices, such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, and transportation systems, such as autonomous vehicles and traffic control systems, can be hacked and potentially put patients' and motorists’ lives at risk. All industries need to prioritize IoT security measures to mitigate the potential risks and ensure the safety and integrity of their operations.

Energy and utility companies

Energy and utility companies are particularly vulnerable to IoT security threats due to their reliance on interconnected devices and systems. This interconnectedness also exposes companies to potential security breaches, as hackers can use vulnerabilities in IoT devices and systems to gain unauthorized access to critical infrastructure, disrupt operations, and steal sensitive data. A bad actor could manipulate the settings of a smart grid and ultimately shut down power systems remotely, leading to widespread disruptions and potential safety hazards.


IoT devices, such as wearable health monitors, medical implants, MRI machines, and other hospital equipment, are vulnerable to cyberattacks that can compromise patient privacy, disrupt healthcare services, and even put lives in danger. The complexity of healthcare networks makes it necessary for the healthcare industry to prioritize IoT security measures and establish robust safeguards to protect sensitive patient data and maintain the integrity of healthcare systems.

Financial institutions

IoT devices and objects in the financial sector include ATMs, payment processing systems, and customer-facing applications. The vast amount of data collected by IoT devices can be targeted by cybercriminals, who can use it for identity theft or other fraudulent activities. IoT security measures need to be a priority for financial institutions to safeguard their systems and data to maintain the trust of their customers.

Government agencies

With a wide range of devices, such as surveillance cameras, smart meters, and transportation systems, connected to the Internet, government agencies are at risk of cyberattacks that can disrupt critical infrastructure or compromise sensitive information. The large scale and complexity of government operations present a challenge to implement robust security measures across all IoT devices, which leaves them vulnerable to hackers and other bad actors both foreign and domestic.

What types of IoT devices are most prone to security risks?

Any devices that have computational capabilities and a connection to the Internet, such as smart home devices, wearable technology, and industrial machines, are most prone to security risks. Generally, the more consumer-based the product, the more likely its security profile is limited and potentially more vulnerable. These devices often have weak security measures in place or rely heavily on end user configuration and can easily fall prey to cyberattacks. Devices that collect and send personal information, video, audio, or financial data are more lucrative to a hacker and present higher risk. It is essential for organizations and users to prioritize prescriptive security measures to protect against potential breaches and ensure the safety and privacy of sensitive information.

Medical imaging systems

Medical imaging systems include X-ray, MRI, and CT scan machines, and generate and store large amounts of patient information, such as images and diagnostic reports. This highly sensitive data is valuable to hackers to disrupt hospital services and hold the information, and systems, for ransom. The information can also be used for identity theft, financial fraud, or to sell on the dark web. The interconnectivity of medical imaging systems to various healthcare systems makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks that could potentially cripple an entire hospital network and put lives at risk. It is crucial for healthcare organizations to implement robust security measures and regularly update and patch their medical imaging systems to mitigate the potential consequences of a security breach.

Patient monitoring systems

The interconnected nature of patient monitoring systems make them prone to security risks due to the potential vulnerabilities in their software and hardware. Patient monitoring systems collect and transmit sensitive patient data, making them prime targets for cybercriminals. Outdated software and lack of encryption can expose patient monitoring systems to various threats, including unauthorized access, data breaches, and even ransomware attacks. The sheer number and complexity of IoT devices also make it challenging to ensure comprehensive security across the entire network.

IP phones

IoT devices like IP phones rely on internet connectivity to function, making them vulnerable to hackers who can spot firmware or software vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access, intercept calls, or even eavesdrop on conversations. Many applications used on these phones lack robust security measures, so it’s crucial to implement strong security protocols, regularly update firmware and software, and use secure network connections to mitigate risks and ensure the privacy and security of IP phone communication.

Energy management devices

Smart meters and home automation systems are among the energy management devices that have become increasingly popular, as they offer convenience and cost savings. But these devices are also prone to the potential for unauthorized access, which could allow energy usage data to be tampered with or manipulated, and lead to inaccurate billing or even power outages. As energy management devices become more interconnected with other smart devices in the home, the risk of a security breach increases.

Security cameras

Hackers can exploit weaknesses in security camera systems to gain unauthorized access to the device and the network it is connected to. Consumer based security cameras (e.g. “nanny cams” or baby monitors) are often manufactured with minimal security measures, outdated firmware, or lack of regular updates that can leave these devices more susceptible to security breaches. This is why it’s so important to have robust security measures in place and regularly update IoT devices.

Final thoughts

IoT security is a critical aspect of the rapidly expanding technology landscape that needs to be carefully considered by individuals and organizations alike. With more devices being connected to the Internet, the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches also increases. It is important to be aware of the potential vulnerabilities that come with the use of IoT devices and take appropriate measures to protect them such as regularly updating software, using strong passwords, implementing encryption, and monitoring network activity. Ignoring IoT security can have dire consequences, including compromised privacy, financial loss, and even physical harm. Therefore, it is crucial to Making IoT security an integral part of any technological strategy is vital. Lastly, security is not just a work thing, security is an everyday , at home, work or play necessity. The more we address it in our daily lives, the less likely we have to deal with the ugly consequences of its aftermath.

The Road to IoT Security

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Tags: Connected Devices Industrial Internet of Things Thingworx

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.