Understanding the IoT Attack Surface

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What Is the IoT Attack Surface?

An attack surface is the amalgamation of all the possible points of entry that an attacker could use to exploit or compromise a system, network, or application. In other words, it represents the different ways in which an attacker could gain unauthorized access or control over a target.

The IoT (Internet of Things) attack surface refers to the various vulnerabilities and entry points that are inherent to connected devices that make up the IoT. Since these devices are typically connected to the internet and may collect, store, or transmit sensitive data, they can be an attractive target for hackers looking to exploit weaknesses in the devices' security.

IoT devices are becoming increasingly prevalent in homes and businesses, and they are also becoming a target for cybercrime. The proliferation of IoT devices has created new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems.

How Does the IoT Impact Security?

The Internet of Things has a significant impact on security, particularly due to its unique characteristics that make computing environments efficient but also present security challenges:

  • Collecting large amounts of data: IoT devices are designed to collect and transmit large amounts of data, and this data can be sensitive and valuable to attackers. The volume of data makes it difficult for organizations to secure the data adequately. It is critical to implement strong security measures to protect the data from unauthorized access, interception, or misuse.
  • Connecting physical and virtual environments: IoT devices connect the physical and virtual environments, creating new security risks. The physical environment includes devices such as sensors, cameras, and other smart devices that can capture real-time data, while the virtual environment comprises the network infrastructure, databases, and cloud computing platforms. The connection between these two environments creates new attack surfaces, and any vulnerabilities in one environment can potentially affect the other.
  • Creating complex environments: IoT devices create complex environments that are challenging to secure. The devices may use different communication protocols and standards, making it challenging to manage and maintain security across the ecosystem. Additionally, the devices may have different firmware versions and patch levels, creating inconsistencies in security measures.
  • Exploiting centralized architectures: IoT devices often rely on centralized architectures such as cloud computing platforms to store and process data. This reliance on centralized architectures creates a single point of failure, making it an attractive target for attackers. If the centralized architecture is compromised, all the devices that depend on it will be affected.

3 Crucial Attack Surface Areas of the IoT

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) identifies the main attack surface areas of IoT systems as devices, communication paths, and applications and software.

1. Devices

This area includes both the hardware and firmware of IoT devices. Attackers can target vulnerabilities in the device's hardware, such as weak or default passwords, insecure firmware updates, and unsecured communication channels. The device's firmware can also be a target for attackers, who may exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to the device or use it as part of a larger botnet.

2. Communication Paths

This area includes the communication protocols and wireless connections used by IoT devices. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in communication protocols, such as unencrypted or unauthenticated connections, to gain access to the device or intercept and manipulate data. Wireless connections such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or NFC can also be targeted by attackers who use techniques like packet sniffing or rogue access points to obtain unauthorized access to the network.

3. Software and Applications

This area includes the software running on the IoT device and any cloud-based services or applications that interact with the device. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in the software, such as unpatched security flaws or weak authentication mechanisms, to obtain unauthorized access to the device or its data. Cloud-based applications and services can also be targeted by attackers, who may exploit vulnerabilities in the web application or API to obtain access to the device or its data.

How to Reduce Your IoT Attack Surface

These practices can help reduce an organization’s IoT attack surface.

Secure Your Passwords

Robust password security can help reduce the IoT attack surface by making it more difficult for attackers to exploit weak or default passwords to gain unauthorized access to IoT devices.

Many IoT devices are shipped with default passwords that are publicly known, making them easy targets for attackers. By using strong and unique passwords, users can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to their devices.

Additionally, users should avoid reusing passwords across different devices and platforms to reduce the risk of password reuse attacks. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) can also increase security by requiring an additional factor, such as a one-time code, to authenticate the user and gain access to the device.

Organizations should also implement password policies to ensure that users create strong and unique passwords, and periodically rotate them. Passwords should be encrypted and stored securely, and any vulnerabilities in password management systems should be promptly patched.

Manage the Devices and Firmware

Managing firmware is essential for ensuring that devices are running the most up-to-date and secure firmware versions. Firmware is the software that runs on embedded devices and controls their functions, and vulnerabilities in firmware can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to the device or its data.

Organizations and users should implement a continuous firmware management process that includes regularly checking for firmware updates, applying security patches, and testing new firmware versions before deploying them. This can help to reduce the risk of vulnerabilities and exploits by preventing the use of devices with outdated firmware.

Updates should be delivered securely to ensure that attackers cannot intercept or tamper with the firmware. Organizations should also implement a rollback mechanism that enables them to revert to a previous firmware version if issues arise with the new update.

Restrict Network Access and Remove Unnecessary Connections

Limiting network access and eliminating excessive connections can help secure the IoT system by reducing the number of entry points that attackers can use to gain unauthorized access to IoT devices.

Organizations should implement a network segmentation strategy that separates IoT devices from other parts of the network and limits communication between them. This can help to contain any security breaches and prevent attackers from moving laterally through the network to gain access to other parts of the organization.

Additionally, organizations should eliminate any unnecessary connections and protocols that are not required for the device's functionality. This reduces the attack surface of the device and limits the potential entry points for attackers.

Organizations should also implement firewalls and access control mechanisms to restrict access to IoT devices, only allowing authorized users and devices to connect to them. This can help to prevent unauthorized access to the device and protect against network-based attacks.

Keep Track of Environmental Drift

Environment drift is the phenomenon where the configuration of IoT devices or systems changes over time, resulting in inconsistencies that can create security vulnerabilities. By identifying and monitoring environment drift, organizations can ensure that IoT devices are operating within their expected configuration, helping to reduce the attack surface of the system.

This can be achieved through automated monitoring and reporting tools that track configuration changes and alert administrators to any unexpected deviations. By promptly addressing these changes, organizations can help ensure the ongoing security and reliability of their IoT systems.


The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought numerous benefits to individuals and organizations, but it also presents unique security challenges. Understanding the IoT attack surface, including devices, communication channels, and applications and software, is crucial for mitigating the risks and securing IoT systems.

Organizations should implement robust security measures, including managing firmware updates, implementing strong password security, and limiting network access, to reduce the attack surface and protect against potential security threats. By doing so, organizations can ensure the ongoing security and reliability of their IoT systems and minimize the potential for data breaches, unauthorized access, and other security incidents.

With the rapid growth of IoT devices and services, it is essential to stay vigilant and proactive in identifying and addressing potential security risks to ensure the ongoing safety and security of these increasingly critical systems.

Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/giladdavidmaayan/