A visitor watches different applications on an IoT network.

A visitor watches different applications of IoT networks. Source: AFP

Shielding the IoT connected enterprise in the era of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic forced many organizations to accelerate the adoption of agile, remote working procedures in relatively short order.

Almost overnight, it seemed like millions of employees are pursuing their job responsibilities from remote locations, and a recent survey by Gartner found that 74 percent of chief finance officers (CFOs) expect at least some remote working procedures to continue even after social distancing and isolation curfews are lifted.

IoT devices in the era of coronavirus

The rapid shift to remote working arrangements has also seen the rise of internet of things (IoT) connected devices more prominently just before, and in the aftermath of, the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be observed in the exponential boom in commercial and industrial applications of IoT devices in the past few years – from 7 billion connected devices in 2018, the number of active IoT devices reached 26.6 billion in 2019, and industry watchers expect 31 billion IoT devices to be installed in 2020.

During the past few months following the outbreak, remote applications of IoT has been spotted in various sectors. IoT medical equipment is being used to monitor patients remotely in Europe, while an assortment of telecommunications companies have banded together to provide real-time tracking of IoT devices in different fields including healthcare IoT devices such as connected EEG machines and hospital beds.

IoT devices are enabling remote supply chain asset management, remote security monitoring by interconnected security systems on manufacturing floors, and there is a host of IoT-plus-5G-powered in the works around the world.

While the number of IoT-enabled devices and their real-world applications have been booming, cybersecurity specialists say that security on IoT equipment still lags far behind– even claims that most IoT devices contain no endpoint security features whatsoever.

Shielding the connected enterprise

Cybersecurity for IoT devices has never been more critical, as the plethora of newly-connected devices represent an exposed aspect of any company with ‘connected enterprise’ aspirations for their operations. IoT device endpoints could be exploited by hackers and other bad actors to gain access to the rest of the interconnected systems present on a company’s IT and OT connected infrastructure.

Older cybersecurity systems might not be primed to protect internet-capable devices at all, and would need system upgrades to incorporate IoT device protection. Furthermore, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has seen numerous new ransomware and malware threats emerge that are targeting vulnerable endpoints, and these might zero in on exposed IoT devices that link to the rest of the company’s systems.

Enterprise-grade IoT security solutions already exist out there, so organizations need to ensure they are protecting these often-overlooked security endpoints. Companies need to place emphasis on updating and maintaining security patches for connected IoT devices the same as for the rest of their networked systems, and furthermore the updating and routine maintenance of cybersecurity measures need to be conducted on a regular basis.

IoT devices might have represented a fraction of a company’s IT infrastructure in the past, but their importance has grown steadily over the past couple of years, and the situation had only been exacerbated by the coronavirus. Considering the threats facing the connected enterprise in this new landscape, it would be wise for companies to make IoT device security an integral part of their cybersecurity measures from this point onwards.