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How to make your IoT apps more resilient against hacking attempts

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Image: Dr. Hempel Digital Health Network

IoT app security is of the utmost importance. A successful cyber attack against an IoT device that controls vital aspects of our lives (heating, doors, medical devices, etc.) could have devastating consequences to our wellbeing, and, in extreme cases, even our very lives. Just imagine the damage potential of a hacker taking over a self-driving vehicle.

As a developer, you have a certain responsibility to prevent such grim scenarios from ever occurring in the first place, or at least try to do so to the best of your ability. If you haven’t thought of this yet, there’s no better time to start working on it than now, as there are, indeed, certain ways you can make your IoT apps more resilient against would-be hackers:

Integrate a mechanism for automatic updates

Hackers are always scanning for vulnerabilities to take advantage of. If they break through the IoT device’s defenses, they could steal or delete data from it, make it malfunction, or even use it to form a botnet. And as it so happens, these vulnerabilities are often exploitable because the system administrators don’t update their devices frequently enough. If this were the case, they would effectively patch them and render them immune against such hacking attempts.

Therefore, developers should strive to make the update process as hassle-free as possible (ideally, it should be automatic). Of course, this is going to require you to offer support and release patches, bugfixes, and security updates on a regular basis, even years after the initial release.

Assess the app at each layer

Review the cybersecurity standards and best practices, then ask yourself this: which part of the app is the most vulnerable to third-party tampering? Potentially, an attacker could intercept data through the communication channel, the cloud, or access it through storage if it’s not encrypted properly. By thinking in advance, you’ll be able to anticipate what could possibly go wrong and prevent it before it gets out of hand.

Also, it’s a good idea to apply application layer security controls. They are easy to install and can automatically detect and block cyber attacks against your app. This is achievable by constantly monitoring what’s going on in the cyber threat landscape, analyzing it, and integrating the findings into the detection algorithms which makes for a very accurate defense against most threats out there.

Consider that an IoT device could be physically tampered with

Due to physical tampering, it’s especially important to encrypt all the data that’s stored on the IoT device, so it’s hard to just unplug it and walk away with everything that’s stored on its hard drive. The end-users should be trained or at least warned about proper security practices as well, including how to set strong passwords and the importance of regular updates (if you can’t make them automated for any reason).

IoT devices and their corresponding apps continue to shape the world all around us. But with every new device connected to the network, there are more potential targets for hackers to try to break in to. In order to stay as secure as possible, everybody should play a role in the process – the developers and the end-users alike. What have you done to bolster the security aspect of your apps today?

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