IoT Security: Understanding PKI’s Role in Securing Internet of Things

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Cryptography will have a key role to play in securing Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already revolutionizing the way we see, use, and interact with our world. And the good news (and bad news) is that it’s just getting started. By 2020, the number of IoT devices are expected to reach a staggering 30.7 billion mark.

Speaking of IoT, it’s often defined as “The system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

iot device security

If that sounded like a load of jargon, we don’t blame you. In simpler words, the IoT acts as a bridge between the physical and virtual world that increases business growth and improves the quality of life. While doing this, it opens up a can of worms as well. As far as cyber-criminals are concerned, the IoT presents a golden opportunity for them. Stopping them from entering our lives and fiddling with our sensitive data should be taken as seriously as possible and PKI will have to play a key role in that. Let’s understand how.

Security challenges of the IoT

As more and more devices get connected, the risks around them are bound to propagate. Primarily, there are three requirements that must be fulfilled from a security point of view – privacy, authenticity, and integrity. Privacy means restricting access to information to authorized parties. The transmission, processing, and storing of data should be done such that no ill-intended person could ever access the data.

Speaking of authenticity in layman’s terms, you don’t want your smart-door to open for everyone, you just want your door to know that it’s you.

On the other hand, it must be ensured that the data remains consistent and accurate all the time. There is every reason to worry about data security when it comes to the industrial appliances. Hackers and competitors can go to any lengths to intercept and tamper with the data for their own interests. As a consequence, the data must be transmitted and stored such that it remains as it is.

How PKI will play a major role

PKI forms a substantial part of today’s internet security systems. Through the use of digital certificates, PKI has been deployed in websites, apps, emails, payment getaways, etc. These certificates are innately designed to serve the purposes of privacy and integrity. PKI implements encryption to facilitate a secure transmission of data on the internet. Such certificates have also been used in devices like fax machines, printers, and routers.

PKI secures data without complications such as passwords and tokens. Also, it just doesn’t ‘secure’ the data, it makes it invincible against the likes of brute-force attacks and deception attacks. In short, modern-day PKI is strong enough to protect both data at rest and data in transit. This way, it delivers on two fronts – privacy and integrity.

As far as authentication of the devices is concerned, PKI proves to be the only tried and tested technique in the minds of many experts. That is why the PKI chips have been used in smart cards and other similar devices. Whether it’s authenticating devices to cloud services, users to things (devices) or thing to thing (device to device), PKI has been used expansively. Consequently, serving the purpose of interoperability as well.

Is PKI enough for IoT security?

It’s clear that PKI fulfills all three major requirements needed to secure IoT devices. Having said that, it’s not enough. It never is. PKI will have to adapt to the rising proliferation of IoT and the threats rising along with it. We might have to re-strategize and reconsider the way we have been using and deploying PKI and adapt it to the world of IoT.

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