Cybersecurity needs to improve if IoT is to thrive

By the end of 2021, there were an estimated 10 billion or so IoT devices active around the world. With this figure predicted to grow by around 150,000 per minute, it's projected to mushroom to an incredible 25 billion by 2030.

This level of connectivity promises much for both our society and the economy, with experts predicting that IoT will generate up to $11 trillion in economic value over the next few years. This tremendous potential is underpinning huge growth in spending in the field, with an estimated $15 trillion spent between 2019 and 2025.

Nowhere is this progress more important than in the industrial IoT, with production and supply chains increasingly digitized and interconnected to enable incredibly complex interactions and flows to take place.

The COVID pandemic has placed this infrastructure under incredible strain, from agricultural producers and miners at one end to logistics and transport firms at the other. The pandemic has forced the whole supply chain to react on the fly to rapidly changing conditions. A new report from Inmarsat highlights the crucial role the Internet of Things has played in enabling this adaptability.

"The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) has a leading role to play in enabling the management of this intricate web of production, distribution, and delivery, with organizations increasingly adopting it in recent years," the authors say. "Utilising an array of connected data producers to keep tabs on valuable assets, companies are producing ‘digital twins’ of their supply chains, so that each stage is recreated in digital form."

Security challenges

For this vision to be realized, however, the report highlights the crucial role cybersecurity will play to ensure that the growing number of attacks on cyber-physical systems over the past few years don’t become endemic. The paper marks the 5th edition of a research project undertaken by Inmarsat and focuses on the application of the Industrial Internet of Things in areas such as mining, agriculture, transport, and oil and gas. They spoke with 450 respondents from across these sectors to understand the areas they're focusing on, the challenges they face, and their future plans.

Common among the responses were concerns about poor network security and the risk of cyberattacks, which underlines the crucial importance of cybersecurity if the industrial IoT is to achieve its potential. The paper demonstrates some of the proactive measures companies are taking to try and combat these risks, including investing in IoT-specific security technologies and introducing new security policies.

Such measures are urgently needed, with over 75% of respondents saying that their IoT networks could be more secure. When diving into the precise weaknesses in their IoT networks, nearly half cited poor network security, unencrypted or insecure edge networks, or the mishandling of data by employees as key concerns. Around half of the respondents thought that an external cyberattack posed the biggest threat to their IoT systems, with most fully aware of the risk this poses not only to the security of data but also to the strategic aims of the business.

Pace of change

There has been a gap of a few years since the last IoT survey undertaken by Inmarsat in 2018, and in that time, adoption of the technology has accelerated dramatically. The proliferation of networks has inevitably created security vulnerabilities as the number of endpoints across IoT networks has increased so significantly.

The report portrays a degree of confidence in the measures taken to tackle the growing risk, however. For instance, around half of organizations said they had a security policy specifically for IoT. While this may seem somewhat of a meager response, it represents considerable growth from the 32% who had one in 2018. There was similar growth in the number of companies that reported that they were investing in new security-related technologies and also in creating specific security policies for IoT for their suppliers and partners.

These measures are important, as those with specific IoT strategies in place were more likely to successfully grapple with the cybersecurity risk and were more likely to have an appreciation of the importance of IoT security at a board level.

“The accelerating speed of IoT adoption over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a proliferation of security concerns, given the increasing number of potentially vulnerable endpoints associated with IoT projects. Comparing our latest results with our 2018 IoT survey, security risks are growing, but in response, businesses are becoming more aware of cyber-security threats and doing more to respond,” Mike Carter, President of Inmarsat Enterprise says. “Overall, our results reveal that those organizations with a formal IoT strategy in place, or who enjoy full support for their IoT projects at the boardroom level, lead the way in terms of having the most informed, security-conscious mindsets and are taking positive, proactive steps to shore up their cyber-security defences.

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