Partner Insight: Don't underestimate the IoT as a security priority

clock • 4 min read

Why a culture of home working could spell trouble for IT leaders, when combined with the unpredictable world of the IoT.

Everyone knows that the coronavirus pandemic has forced organisations to find new ways of coping during lockdown. Most employees have been working from home, aside from small numbers of customer-facing staff and workers in essential and emergency services.

Whilst some organisations have long enabled agile home working in order to offer a better work-life balance, others have had to feel their way into this flatter, more dispersed and collaborative culture that feels so different from traditional, top-down, office-based workflows.

In this perimeterless environment, making someone's home office or living room into a node on the corporate network is not without its risks. Meanwhile, connected devices in the workplace can be a problem too.

The IoT question

The IT management and security challenges of this new world have been explored in our other recent reports, but a less obvious factor for technology professionals is securing and managing the Internet of Things (IoT) in this complex and unpredictable environment.

But what does this mean?

Some organisations, such as those in transport, logistics, energy, utilities, agriculture, healthcare, and the public sector may have growing IoT estates that plug into central IT infrastructures and data repositories.

These might include sensors, drones, driverless vehicles, cameras, hubs, security systems, connected devices, and more, some of which may be part of smart city programmes, industrial installations, or transport networks.

Many of these devices may gather and process data without human intervention, including sensors with low-energy chips for AI and inference tasks. Some of this processing may take place at the Edge, close to the point of need.

The home office challenge

At the other end of the scale, many workplaces have been installing similar technologies to the ones that people have added to their homes: cameras, smart thermostats, home hubs, smart speakers, connected appliances, and even smart lightbulbs.

If any of those devices have been rushed to market with insufficient onboard security, preset passwords, and other basic flaws, then they could offer an easy route into the corporate network for opportunistic hackers.

And in a more dispersed and remote workforce, smart home devices may begin to create security and management challenges of their own.

For example, if hackers are able to gain easy access to home security cameras, smart TVs, smart speakers, or hubs, then these could offer a route into the domestic network, which now includes any devices that people are using for work, such as their corporate laptops or smartphones.

Determined hackers could even use insecure cameras to spy on people in their own homes, potentially gathering sensitive corporate data. (If this seems an unlikely outcome, there are entire online communities in which people can watch unsecured cameras in homes, offices, and public spaces.)

So how big a problem is the IoT in IT leaders' estimation?

IT leaders speak out

Computing surveyed 150 IT leaders in medium to large organisations across every major economic sector in order to find out how well they are managing and securing a more complex IT estate at a time of mass home working.

While the headline-grabbing findings concerned areas such as cybersecurity, trust, complexity, and the rising costs of managing a diffuse estate, the IoT was lurking in the findings too.

For example, when asked what their main motivations were for introducing cloud-based PC management suites into the organisation, nine percent of IT managers singled out the increasing numbers of IoT or Edge-based devices on the network. Even devices that work without human intervention need to be managed and secured.

Nearly one-quarter of respondents acknowledged the rising complexity and diversity of the estate, which now includes many new device types.

The connected future

While only a small minority of IT leaders currently see the IoT as a key concern, when asked what features will become increasingly important for device management systems to offer over the next three years, 18 percent identified the ability to manage ‘userless' IoT and/or Edge devices.

That's a significant uptick in the perceived importance of the issue: from under 10 percent to nearly one-fifth of all respondents.

Meanwhile, 30 percent identified off-domain device management capabilities and 16 percent out-of-band (OS independent) device management as critical features for cloud-based systems to offer in the future.

The findings are clear: IT leaders recognise that the IoT and Edge environment will become a more serious strategic issue in the years ahead, when it comes to managing and securing such devices. 

Factor in the pandemic and our new world of enforced home working and social distancing, and considering the many potential impacts of IoT devices is critical.

This reinforces the case for a multi-layered approach to security, starting with hardware, the use of intelligent end points with embedded AI, and robust cloud-based remote management tools that work across your PC fleet and userless endpoint devices.

Find out more about the future of remote device management challenges and solutions from our bespoke research.

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