Looking to Secure IoT Objects

Thursday, September 10, 2015 @ 05:09 PM gHale

There are easy-to-use techniques to configure Internet of Things (IoT) objects, to make them more secure which can help protect against online attacks.

The IoT means there is an increase in connectivity, but with it brings additional risk.

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Setting personalized and strong passwords when connecting new devices to the Internet, for example through home Wi-Fi networks, can mitigate such risks. However, IoT devices have limited interfaces: Just a few buttons (if any at all) and light indicators, making it challenging for users to configure them. If a secure configuration becomes complicated, users may choose easier, less secure options that leave their devices vulnerable.

Researchers from the University of Southampton compared four interaction techniques for the configuration of IoT devices, looking for methods that allowed security, but were quick and easy to use. All four techniques used the smartphone touchscreen to let users enter secure passwords.

Two of the techniques used a more “traditional” approach by connecting the smartphone and the IoT device through a USB or audio cable, via the smartphone’s headphone socket.

The third technique used a Wi-Fi-only approach, where the smartphone creates a special temporary Wi-Fi network, or ad-hoc network, to which the IoT device automatically connects before being redirected to the correct permanent network.

The final option was the smartphone and the IoT device exchanging information through light: The smartphone’s screen flashed black and white to mean binary zero or one; the IoT device read this light/binary pattern to learn the password from the smartphone.

The results of the comparisons found two of the techniques were noticeably more usable than the others — the audio cable and the Wi-Fi-only interactions.

“IoT objects can be attacked and possibly hijacked, putting our privacy, data and safety in question,” said study co-author Dr. Enrico Costanza, from the Agents, Interaction, Complexity Group in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. “We believe that our results can help designers and researchers make IoT devices, and especially their configuration, more usable and therefore secure. Moreover, we believe that not enough attention has been placed on how to make the IoT easy to use and to configure, so we hope that our results will motivate others in researching this topic.”