How to prepare your network and defend against the “Gadget Hordes”

How to Prepare Your Network and Defend Against the “Gadget Hordes”

With each passing year, network and security administrators have been faced with more and more devices appearing inside the walls of their corporate network.  From discount tablets and phones to IoT devices like WiFi environmental monitors and controls, corporate BYOD policies are becoming the latest way to expose your network to hacking attempts.

The introduction of even more devices containing embedded systems, could some of these so-called “smart devices” be the cause of the next large scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack?  Last October many people experienced, the Mirai malware, which was used against one of the largest providers of DNS for large companies like Twitter, Facebook, Github, and others.  This attack was organized by hackers that cataloged devices that were vulnerable.  Once the devices were identified, they were infected with malware, and attackers were able to turn millions of these Internet of Things (IoT) devices against major companies to effectively shut them down for hours.

IoT devices tend to have weaker security protections than regular computers, including hard-coded and widely known passwords, and unlike computers, not all devices are easily patched or updatable. Additionally, there are many IoT device manufacturers, and the devices are sold through different channels; there are no common controls regarding passwords, encryption, or other security measures, and no “chain of custody” controls tracking who has handled the device or when. These vulnerabilities make IoT devices attractive targets.

How many of these low-cost devices currently reside on your network?   Would you know how to find one on your network? Could you isolate it from your corporate network? Can you detect “bad-actor” devices on your network?

Here are some things every IT administrator should address to help protect from these and other vulnerabilities…

Network Admission Control

Having the ability to limit who/what can attach to your network is one of the key defenses against these types of devices.   By having a defined list of MAC addresses allowed to utilize your network, you can remove the ability for staff to plug-in or attach a device to your wireless network.  Devices who don’t have access granted can be placed into an isolated VLAN, and network administrators can be alerted.

In addition Secure Mobile Device Management, forces people to install a profile to ensure they meet minimum security status. (i.e. have a password) Employees should also be able to access only those systems and data that they absolutely need to perform their jobs. So that all activity can be traced to a particular user, each employee should have a unique access ID and should be authenticated using a strong password or passphrase, biometrics, or a token device or smart card. Strong cryptography should be used to render all passwords unreadable during storage and transmission. Physical access to systems and consumer data should also be restricted to prevent employees and building visitors from accessing or removing devices, data, systems, or hardcopies.

Network Logging, often called a SIEM

Creating a baseline is really the only way to know if you have a problem.   By understanding how your network functions on a good day, you can very easily detect when something is going wrong on your network.  Even basic logging can help determine things like typical bandwidth utilized on a given day.   For larger corporate environments, the use of a Security Information and Event Manager (SIEM) can help collapse all of your corporate log data into one place, and allow for a much more centralized view of normal operations.   From server CPU and memory utilization to Wifi throughput, it makes detecting a bad-actor on your network much easier.

 NextGen Layer 7 Firewall

Having a firewall that can detect and act upon traffic at an application level is crucial to help keep devices from “beaconing” after they have been compromised.  Having a system capable of categorizing data flows and tying them to a known application behavior can give administers a leg up in noticing “uncategorized” data flows, and can even help them capture this data for more in-depth analysis.

Cloud Application Security Brokers

CASBs are a fairly new concept in security.   These systems are utilized to give IT administrators a view of what cloud applications devices are using, with or without permission.  With over 23,000 known cloud applications, understanding communication patterns can help to identify a problem before it gets out of hand.  These systems go deeper than a firewall, but inspecting not only the traffic, but exposing any encrypted data going in and out of your network.

These are a few layers of your security architecture that can help protect from exploited devices, and can give network administrators the visibility and analytics to identify an issue before it gets out of control.

The Internet of Things is quickly emerging as the path of least resistance. The hardware, firmware, and OS that comprise IoT devices are not typically built with security in mind. These vulnerabilities and lack of security standards can make any IoT device a vulnerable entry point for cyber attack. Without strict security precautions that cool IoT gadget could be the “gift” that keeps giving and cripple your organization.


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