Multi-Factor Authentication Is Crucial for IoT Security

Zac Amos
Multi-Factor Authentication Is Crucial for IoT Security
Illustration: © IoT For All

The billions of IoT (Internet of Things) devices that connect the world are streamlining everyday life. Health care, smart homes, and manufacturing firms are just some of the industries that benefit from the data collection and automation that IoT can provide. However, the more devices, the more chances hackers take to tamper with and steal sensitive data. That’s where multi-factor authentication in IoT comes in.

IoT devices are often connected to each other and, in turn, to the internet. If a hacker gains access to an unsecured IoT device, they could alter functionality for a whole host of devices. Hardware, software, and connectivity all need adequate security to protect devices and data from unauthorized forces.

“If a hacker gains access to an unsecured IoT device, they could alter functionality for a whole host of devices.”

-Zac Amos

In fact, a 2017 ransomware attack on Britain’s National Health Service affected IoT devices like MRI scanners, equipment, and computers, all placing patients at risk. Clearly, IoT security is critical for protecting data and lives across the world.

One way to achieve a fortified IoT connection is through multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires various pieces of evidence to allow access to a device or network. This method is crucial for the future of IoT, whether it be in smart fridges or health monitoring devices.

Why Is Multi-Factor Authentication in IoT So Crucial? 

Most passwords are either weak enough to be hacked or too complex to remember. With single-factor authentication, brute force attacks can knock these flimsy passwords out in seconds.

Many IoT devices are also more minimalistic than the typical smartphone, laptop, or tablet, so users cannot log onto these interfaces directly. Verification is key, as security depends on administrative actions to log on.

However, MFA is better at validating identity with specific evidence. Today, many banks, social media platforms, and health organizations require two-factor authentication (2FA) in the form of SMS codes and one-time passwords sent to the user’s phone. MFA works similarly but requires more than two pieces of evidence to authenticate. This is ideal for businesses or any organization that handles sensitive information.

MFA will gather evidence in four key areas to verify the identity of the user:

  • Knowledge that only the user would know, such as a password or pre-selected security question. For example, they may ask, “What was the name of your childhood pet?”
  • Possession of unique ownership like a key fob or card
  • Inherent biometric characteristics like fingerprints or retinal scan
  • Location and time of log on

With all these verification forms, it is much harder for hackers to succeed. Multi-factor authentication is known to protect against phishing, social engineering, key logging, and brute force attacks.

Tips for Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication in IoT 

Though it’s clear that multi-factor authentication is critical to eliminating cyberattacks and building better security measures, only 57% of surveyed businesses used MFA to protect their devices. Implementing MFA is the best way to protect data and ward off cyberattacks, so companies can use these tried and tested methods for using MFA.

1. Incorporate Across the Board

Once multi-factor authentication is implemented into the IoT system, it’s best to incorporate it everywhere. IoT is often connected through the internet and similar networks, so don’t stop at securing heavy-duty and sensitive systems. Devices that aid in temperature control are just as important as heart monitors or electrical towers. If a hacker gains access to one, they may be able to travel to others on the network.

Extend the multi-factor upgrade beyond IoT as well. Google and PayPal are some of the big businesses incorporating MFA into payment services. This level of protection is ideal for everyday people and businesses alike to safeguard their finances and communications.

2. Try Auto-Generated SMS Codes

SMS codes are convenient and more secure than authentication emails. They require the user to have access to another trusted device like their smartphone, as well as the IoT device itself. It’s also a timely method. Codes are generated and sent to the trusted device within minutes so users can keep everyday routines on schedule. SMS-generated codes are one of the most popular methods of possession authentication and check all the boxes on simplicity and security.

3. Explore Biometric Scanning

Biometric scanning is a fascinating way for high-security businesses to verify a user down to their inherent biological traits. Behavioral biometrics analyze a person’s movements, such as keystrokes, gestures, and tone of voice. Physiological biometrics examine facial structure, fingerprints, and retinas. With cameras attached to IoT devices or at key checkpoints, these systems can verify multiple biological factors on a person without waiting for codes, scanning a card, or inputting a password. 

While compelling and streamlined, biometric scans are expensive and better suited for highly sensitive operations. 

4. Provide Employee Education

Educating employees on the power of MFA is vital to fortifying IoT security. If they need clarification on methods, updates, or the importance of safety, they could make lapses in judgment or accidentally leave room for security breaches.

Make sure there is an alert system enabled for employees as well. If one of their credentials is used without their knowledge, an automated alert can notify them and the proper security teams immediately. Placing security in their hands gives them greater responsibility and purpose for their MFA actions.

5. Keep it Straightforward

Ultimately, integrating MFA into IoT should be as streamlined as possible. Many organizations use various IoT-connected devices, so marking down codes and passwords hundreds of times a day is not conducive to a proper workday. To ease this burden, employers can require MFA apps like Google Authenticator.

MFA for the Future

IoT connects the world in a multitude of ways, so protecting its integrity is critical to the success of any organization or user. In an instant, a hacker could gain access and tamper with operations and data. But with the discerning power of multi-factor authentication in IoT, people can feel more confident in the security of their IoT devices far into the future.

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.