Best Practices on Securing the Internet of Things

Posted by on December 2, 2016

Don

Don Reeves, Chief Technology Officer

Don Reeves joined Silver Spring Networks in 2005 and brings over 25 years of experience in high-technology product development to his role as Chief Technology Officer. During his time at Silver Spring, Don has led the Software Engineering team to develop the UtilityIQ™ product suite, launched the company’s hosting business, led the worldwide Delivery organization, and most recently led the R&D and Managed Services teams.

Before joining Silver Spring Networks, Don served as Vice President of Engineering at Black Pearl where he managed the software development, support and services teams. He received his BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.


Why is security a vital element of the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Cities, communities, utilities and businesses are connecting a more diverse set of sensors, devices and systems than ever before. Access to accurate information and the ability to reliably send commands are fundamental to the concept of IoT. As IoT devices become critical to the operations of cities, utilities, and enterprises, protecting that data becomes paramount. Even if the data from a single sensor may not be mission critical today, protecting that device and ensuring it cannot infect other devices on the network is a core functionality of an enterprise-grade IoT network. Security is a vital element to enabling this core functionality.

Why is Silver Spring’s approach/design/philosophy a more secure approach to IoT?

Silver Spring has always considered security to be a core architectural element of our IoT platform. Security cannot be effectively added on later, much as quality cannot be tested into a product at the end of its development cycle. We provide a layered, defense-in-depth design for security that starts with the physical hardware, provides multiple levels of protection across the mesh network, and culminates in defense of the back office network and applications.

We also firmly believe that security threats evolve over time, and hence we need to continue to adapt our products to counter new and emerging threats. We assess security as part of our product development lifecycle, and we employ third-party experts to perform independent analysis of our products. We support broad-based firmware upgrades to our network devices, as well as the firmware of the host device (e.g., meter, streetlight controller, etc.) to ensure that our ecosystem of products can evolve to meet rapidly changing cybersecurity requirements.

Finally, we listen carefully to our customers, assessing and acting upon their own independent analysis, and wherever possible leveraging their best practices related to security.

Why is it so hard to defend against Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS)?

For a traditional Internet company, DDoS attacks are a challenge that is inherent for the growing nature of the Internet and for devices that are infinitely connected. A response is always possible, but it takes time to diagnose and devise the appropriate remediation.

The good news is that the Silver Spring mesh network, by design, is not susceptible to the same sort of DDoS attacks. Our network egress points are protected and not open to the Internet at large. The network is designed to be redundant and will fail over automatically, without any manual intervention. Our deployment model for all applications (except those targeted at end-consumers) is to require VPN access, vs. opening them up to the Internet.

As Silver Spring leverages StarfishTM to enable the broader IoT ecosystem, we remain committed to providing a secure end-to-end platform that safeguards at multiple levels to prevent devices from being compromised and used as attack vectors. We will also continue to be very active in promoting standards related to security, as we recognize these needs across the broader industry.

How can we minimize the chance that our devices could be used for nefarious purposes as a part of a denial of service attack?

A set of protections are built into every device we sell that protect against this threat. Hardware and firmware are protected against compromise of an individual device, and additional layers protect against the unlikely outcome of a compromised device being leveraged as part of an attack. To fully maintain these layers of protection, we strongly recommend that customers and ecosystem partners stay up-to-date with recommended updates to both firmware and software. Customers should enable all security features that are available. Finally, we encourage all to continue to engage in the discussion about further security enhancements and monitoring processes, both with Silver Spring, and within your own industry.

Do we expect critical infrastructure to leverage IoT and if so, what kind of reliability or threat mitigation capabilities may be needed?

Smart utilities and cities are already utilizing the internet of things to create a more connected future today. It is gratifying to see existing Silver Spring customers reap the benefits of our products and technology, delivering higher levels of reliability and performance to their customers, with greater efficiency.

As with every new frontier, we also foresee future challenges in expanding the ecosystem of connected devices, and in enabling new ways for those devices to interact. We are actively embracing these challenges and look forward to working closely with current and future customers to continue to evolve our platform to deliver new functionality and capabilities in a highly secure manner.