How to Conduct IoT Penetration Testing

Zac Amos
How to Conduct IoT Penetration Testing
Illustration: © IoT For All

Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices are an unexpected source of intense and preventable security breaches, and it’s time they get the penetration testing treatment just like other hardware. Why is it essential to give IoT devices special treatment and how can companies defend them successfully?

What’s the Importance of Penetration Testing for IoT?

IoT devices rely on connectivity, and their utility crumbles in the face of a threat actor or power outage. Because all technology is moving to an IoT model — from water bottles to stoplights — every object will need analysts to verify safety nets. Professionals will need to verify safety on every front and with the rise of IoT devices, it will quickly be millions of fronts. Since IoT devices connect from countless routing points, servers, and regions, few connections are reliably the same.

Penetration testing reveals unknown security gaps as trustworthy professionals simulate threatening attacks. They dig through firmware and hardware for vulnerabilities and accessibility oversights.

Testers get inside the mind of a hacker, trying to find sneaky ways into servers, tease out the most valuable exploits and steal the most priceless information. Analysts need to perform these tests — especially with rising technologies like IoT — so their reputation for being insecure and modern technologies quickly dissolves.

How Can Businesses Perform IoT Penetration Testing?

No technology is perfect. Some problems are uniquely endemic to self-driving cars or home security systems. Understanding their similarities and differences will make analysts better primed for getting the most out of IoT penetration testing.

1. Get Inside the Mind of the Threat

Massive IoT breaches have already happened, giving these electronics a delicate reputation that hackers will exploit. The more popular these inefficiencies become, the more attention analysts must give to rectifying them before cybercriminals continue using them.

Though each IoT device can have its known shortcomings, here are the most well-known faults to give pen testers a head start:

  • Weak passwords
  • Poor data management and security
  • Connections to insecure networks
  • Lack of updates
  • Minimal alerts and notifications for authentication
  • Incomprehensive default settings
  • Nonexistent privacy setting manipulation

Common vulnerabilities are ideal to know, but thinking outside the box will provide a complete pentesting experience. Consider how a team could employ defenses on top of defenses — how would the hacker overcome those, or could they? These will help guide pen testers in their initial descents into the target IoT devices.

2. Have an Actionable Workflow

Finding the vulnerabilities is step one, but it only improves if analysts patch the gaps over a meaningful attack surface. What’s the scope of the testing and does it cover all the Internet of Things’ entry points, including hardware and software? Does the way the IoT device connects through WiFi, Bluetooth, or ZigBee have specific vulnerabilities they should address on top of the device’s shortcomings?

Testers can take action steps in their risk management or business continuity plans, finding ways to cover entry points with even more barriers and obstacles. When they find a new flaw or one they don’t have an answer to, they should have an action plan to discover solutions promptly.

3. Implement Protections

Is there a need for more encryption or immutable storage? Are there too many users with permissions, making the surface area wider than necessary? Is the IoT device collecting data that it shouldn’t, making it a more valuable target for hackers?

After pentesting, these questions will reveal what the analyst must do to prevent future attacks. Whether replacing a device with a more trusted brand or adding more intense verification measures, every situation will be individualized to the IoT device and circumstance.

4. Store Findings 

Analysts must allocate time after pentesting to view the IoT data. The stage is layered — the data uncovered from the tests has to remain in a safe location. It reveals sensitive information about ways hackers could take the utmost advantage of IoT devices, which should stay behind heavy authentication measures.

Additionally, analysts should comb through the data the tests collected and glean insights from them. Tech experts must utilize real-time data analytics to get the most out of these tests. Otherwise, they will miss crucial visuals on how attacks impact emergency scenarios.

Noticing trends and patterns may reveal additional process discoveries for making the umbrella of a company’s cybersecurity strategy more resilient. Report these findings to stakeholders and management teams for transparency and continued research and development.

What Benefits Will Analysts See?

Apart from an increased reputation for these IoT products that will hopefully discourage criminals, there are myriad benefits for pentesting IoT devices. The most prominent from a business standpoint is financial savings. The more resilient IoT tech is, the fewer breaches entities need to shell out for ransomware attacks or third parties to help isolate botnet assaults.

Additionally, it will raise citizen buy-in for critical IoT adoption. If customers worldwide remain skeptical about these devices’ safety, few people will use them, meaning the data they collect to promote societal advancement won’t be comprehensive or practical. Normalizing white-hat ethical hackers will make tech users feel safer.

The more IoT devices individuals, companies, and cities rely on, the more theoretically efficient and automated everything can become. However, it can only improve with more information, and the more valuable these devices become, the more hackers will target them. The most crucial benefit that pen testers can bring to IoT devices is impenetrable walls that threat actors couldn’t even conceive of breaking. With comprehensive cybersecurity, fewer IoT attacks could happen because pentesting found solutions to most attack variants.

Finding Vulnerabilities in IoT With Penetration Testing

Mass IoT adoption is happening now for purposes like turning off house lights to critical infrastructure like grids being able to distribute power during natural disaster-related emergencies. No matter the application, penetration testing can help these electronics garner a better reputation that can deter threat actors from attempting breaches.

Zac Amos
Zac Amos - Features Editor, ReHack
Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he writes about all things tech-related, from cybersecurity to AI to IoT.
Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he writes about all things tech-related, from cybersecurity to AI to IoT.