Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

One-size-fits-all approach will not secure IoT, says TCG

Steve Rogerson
July 2, 2019

Securing the IoT is something that cannot be done with a one-size-fits-all approach, according to Steve Hanna (pictured), co-chair of Trusted Computing Group’s (TCG) embedded systems work group, speaking at last week’s Embedded Technologies Expo & Conference in California.
He said every kind of connected object must be assessed individually, and highlighted how the growing trend for greater connectivity puts everyday objects at risk of exploitation and makes mission critical systems in businesses and governments more vulnerable to attacks.
And while securing the IoT was often referred to as a singular movement, Hanna emphasised that every device had to be handled according to its individual needs, warning that there would be no single method that could be universally applied to safeguard devices.
“When you consider other security systems, for example a lock, what you would use for a front door is very different to what would be used for a bank or a government building because the scale of an attack would be much greater and more complex in the case of the latter,” he said. “The same is true for computers and embedded systems; when we think about security, we have to think about different levels that correspond to the level of risk.”
Hanna illustrated his point by comparing a baby monitor with a chemical plant, both of which are likely to become connected as standard in the near future. For the latter, he said, the impact of an attack could be as serious as an explosion that would ultimately endanger human life.
“While it is important to secure things like baby monitors, for example, to avoid the devices being used to eavesdrop on conversations, there is a price point that needs to be met as well,” he said. “No one is going to spend thousands of dollars on a baby monitor and, for the manufacturers, that means the security needs to be less expensive. In the case of a chemical plant, the risk is much greater, the level of attack is likely to be more sophisticated and a serious amount of money could have been invested in carrying it out. As a result, the security measures need to be much more stringent.”
Hanna went on to explain that the customised security approach required by the IoT can be easily achieved using technologies that are available today. TCG’s security standards are all based on the concept of trusted computing where a root of trust forms the foundation of the device and meets the specific requirements of the device or deployment.
“TCG’s wide variety of security options provide the building blocks to create secure systems,” said Hanna. “In the case of a chemical plant, industrial-grade discrete TPM [trusted platform module] hardware can be built in not just into the plant’s firewall but also into the control system. This will enable these systems to be monitored in real time and for even sophisticated attacks to be identified and prevented. For devices which are less high-risk, TPM firmware can be created which has the same set of commands but is less rigorously secured and therefore more cost-effective. Finally, for very tiny devices that can’t afford TPM firmware, Dice offers a good alternative.”
Dice stands for device identifier composition engine.
TCG is a not-for-profit organisation formed to develop, define and promote open, vendor-neutral, global industry specifications and standards, supportive of a hardware-based root of trust, for interoperable trusted computing platforms.