Internet of Things and education: protecting digital learning systems from cyber-attack

Classrooms are becoming virtual. Teaching and learning increasingly happens online and over multiple devices, leading to increased vulnerabilities. Here, we take a look at how institutions can protect themselves

Protect your Internet of Things platform from cyber-attacks

Throughout the last decade, public perception of cyber-attacks has evolved from a rare and far-off danger to a deeply relevant threat. Large-scale data breaches have proven that every internet user is inherently at risk, be they consumer or enterprise, regardless of the size of their digital footprint.

Download your free ebook to learn about:

•       Cybersecurity trends over past decades

•       The risks and consequences of inadequate security protocols

•       Internet of Things’ evolving relationship with cybersecurity

•       Common attack vectors and best practices that stymy them

•       The future of Internet of Things security

Using this information, we can better forearm developers and users in the coming decade. We aim to answer the question: “What can the past and present of Internet of Things Security tell us about its future?”

A short history of Internet of Things security

As the Internet of Things ecosystem of manufacturers and users expands, cybersecurity measures must continually evolve to keep up with threats that continually grow in scope and complexity. To fully understand the relationship between security and the Internet of Things, it’s important to look back at the industry’s roots.

Around fifteen years ago, when the Internet of Things was in its infancy, manufacturers largely fell into two categories:

•       Appliance or hardware manufacturers who added connectivity or ‘smartness’ to existing devices

•       Software companies who began creating hardware devices as a means of distributing or improving their existing products

The reason for this is simple: businesses with existing manufacturing and software development infrastructure could expand into the Internet of Things space more cheaply and therefore with reduced risk.

Regardless of a development team’s position at a hardware company, a software company, or one of the new players who were both, resources were universally limited. Teams needed to swiftly design and launch a minimum-viable product in order to justify their existence, so engineering resources were allocated predominantly for development. At the time, cybersecurity was not as strongly prioritised as it is today; devices were generally too specific or niche for hackers to be interested in compromising them. As a result, security features were mostly minimal and underdeveloped.

However, the hacking community would not stay idle forever.

As Internet of Things devices became more powerful and widely spread, the profitability of hacking them slowly improved. Eventually the industry reached a point where hacking connected devices had become quite a profitable venture. Unfortunately for many manufacturers, this shift was quick and unpredicted and many were not prepared for the new ecosystem of malicious agents. Adding security features to a product after its launch is difficult and expensive, but many developers had no choice but to do their best with limited time and resources.

For many years after this, the Internet of Things was notorious for its apparent lack of security. Millions of devices and their data have been compromised since. The majority of these attacks go undetected and only divert a small amount of computing power for activities like the surreptitious mining of cryptocurrencies.

However, as the Internet of Things begins to penetrate higher-stakes verticals such as government, healthcare, education and supply-chain, attacks will become more organised and daring. Today, this has become widely understood, which is why security has become such an important topic of discussion for experts of the Internet of Things.

Over the past decade, the Internet of Things has exploded in size, surpassing 22 billion devices in early 2020. Though this rapid proliferation can be attributed to many technological and economic factors, growth has also coincided with a growing trust in the capability and usefulness of devices themselves.

After all, Internet of Things devices today are exponentially more intelligent, adaptable and intuitive than they were 10 years ago.

End-to-end systems

As threats become more organised and sophisticated, it becomes apparent that certain security vulnerabilities are difficult or impossible to avoid without completely re-evaluating core infrastructure like supply chain or firmware stack. This speaks to one of the timeless adages of cybersecurity; strong cybersecurity cannot be tacked on as an added feature – it must inform the design of a product at every stage of development.

Some business models lend themselves better than others to this way of doing things. Such a stringent eye for security requires an immense amount of granular control over the design of a device. Many Internet of Things developers rely on third party software and hardware components in the core design of their device as this simplifies and reduces development costs. While cheaper and easier to manufacture, devices also become impossible to completely secure. Critical flaws in third party components also cannot be as directly addressed, meaning solutions are more expensive and take longer.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to predict that the institutions that emerge as sector leaders in cybersecurity in the near future are the ones that have the most comprehensive control over their devices. As the pressures of cyber-threats mount, additional scrutiny will be placed on a developer’s ability to plan ahead and keep security top of mind when designing a product.

Download the cybersecurity guide to learn about the most common cyber-attacks and easy ways to safeguard your network against them.

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