Why this is now the time to invest in security : Page 3 of 5

May 27, 2015 // By Alan Grau, Icon Labs
Why this is now the time to invest in security
Researchers from Kaspersky Labs, at their annual Security Analyst Summit (SAS), presented detailed findings of pervasive malware and embedded surveillance tools that have largely gone undetected for over a decade. The report implies that the surveillance tools were developed and deployed by the US National Security Agency.

Use of multiple layers of protection is the driving principle for enterprise security. This includes implementing firewalls, authentication/encryption, security protocols and intrusion detection/intrusion prevention systems.

These are well established and proven security principles. Despite this industry awareness, firewalls are virtually absent in embedded systems, which instead mostly rely on simple password authentication and security protocols.

This cavalier attitude towards security is based on assumptions that embedded devices are not attractive targets to hackers, embedded devices are not vulnerable to attacks or that authentication and encryption can provide adequate protection for embedded devices. These old assumptions are no longer valid; the number and sophistication of attacks against embedded devices continues to rise and greater security measures are needed.

For over 25 years, cybersecurity has been a critical focus for large enterprises, whereas it has only recently become a focus for most engineers building embedded computing devices.

“Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is high”, or so goes the saying. Rather than learn all the lessons by experience, embedded engineers can take a page from the enterprise security playbook. To ensure a device is secure, the following capabilities need to be included:

  1. Harden the device (Secure boot, authentication, anti-tamper);
  2. Secure the communication (security protocols, embedded firewall);
  3. Enable device visibility (remote command audit, event reporting);
  4. Enable security management (remote policy management, integration with security management systems).

These capabilities provide the foundation for building secure embedded devices.

Building security into the device

Building protection into the device itself provides a critical security layer - the devices are no longer dependent on the corporate firewall as their sole layer of security. In addition, the security can be customized to the needs of the device.

A security solution for embedded devices must ensure the device firmware has not been tampered with. It must secure the data stored by the device, secure the communications in and out of the device, and it must protect the device from cyber-attacks. This can only be achieved by including security in the early stages of design.

Security controls must be applied even during the manufacturing of the device or component. Integrating a hacked device into a “secure” system could doom the entire project or network to failure.

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