Protecting sensitive data from the Internet of Things and its ever-expanding attack frontier

The Internet of Things (IoT) is optimizing everything from homes to businesses to entire industries through the collection and sharing of sensitive data. While the IoT is revolutionizing how businesses operate and enhancing their customer experiences through automation, it’s not without risk to the security of sensitive data.

The emerging risks of the IoT

The “things” in the IoT mainly refer to devices or objects that normally wouldn’t connect to the internet, such as thermostats, lightbulbs, or vehicles. While making these things “smart,” or connected to the internet, so they can speak to one another is certainly beneficial — Apple Watch’s ability to detect a fall and notify emergency services with your location, for example, could be life-saving — the increased number of API-connected devices with access to all sorts of sensitive information also poses a massive threat to data security.

What are APIs?

An application programming interface is a mediator between two applications that enables them to communicate with each other. Think of an API as the waiter in a restaurant who takes your order, shares it with the kitchen, and then brings your meal out to you when it’s ready. Or the concierge at a resort who connects you with different events and activities to enjoy during your stay.

In the context of IoT, APIs are what connect your smart home devices to the internet so you can control them via voice commands or mobile applications. When you tell Alexa to turn off the TV, there’s an Amazon API at work translating your request into a readable format so your smart TV can receive and fulfill it. API connectivity is what enables the IoT to be so powerful, but it’s also what introduces risk into sensitive data environments.

The increasing threat of API attacks

By nature, APIs are designed to transport large volumes of data from one cloud system to another via the open internet, making them a prime target for cybercrime. A simple misconfiguration can leave sensitive information exposed and vulnerable to an API attack. And while you may think “a simple misconfiguration” is an easy thing to avoid, in just the first half of 2021, API attacks increased by 348%. Because of how closely connected IoT devices are, a hacker just needs one vulnerability, like a misconfigured or weakly secured API, to exploit and get ahold of data. For this reason, Gartner expects APIs to be the most frequent attack vector in 2022.

Thus far, companies like Facebook, Venmo, Equifax, Instagram, Amazon, and PayPal have experienced API-related attacks. Compromised APIs even played a role in one of the biggest supply chain attacks to date, involving SolarWinds. The company, which provides IT management software and has federal entities among its prestigious list of clients, is no stranger to the importance of data security. And yet, when cybercriminals injected malicious code in a software update for its popular Orion platform, they were able to easily decrypt API keys and begin extracting sensitive data from victims’ databases for months without anyone realizing.

How to protect sensitive information from API attacks

The solution to protecting sensitive data from IoT-related threats, including those from the impending rollout of 5G networks, lies in securing information at its source. Not only will 5G significantly increase the number of connected devices, but it will also speed up the transfer of information across those devices. While the ultimate goal is to optimize processes in nearly every industry, 5G will also enable cybercriminals to work faster and more discreetly.

Data-centric security takes a bulk of protective responsibilities off of the hardware, applications, and networks data passes through by applying protective measures to the data itself. Any secondary security these entities provide is welcome, but if a cybercriminal were to break through — and that seems inevitable with how highly targeted APIs are — your data has an extra line of defense.

A data-centric approach to security invokes the essential step of data discovery to accurately locate sensitive data wherever it exists, from endpoint devices to the cloud. Then, it can be properly classified with semantic tagging, so other tools in your organization’s security stack can handle it accordingly. In turn, this allows for the implementation of granular access controls, as well as ongoing monitoring. Should a compromised API allow unauthorized access into your sensitive data environment, you’ll be notified of any behavioral irregularities immediately for fast remediation.

Secure sensitive data where it lives with Spirion

Spirion offers highly accurate, automated data discovery so enterprises can secure sensitive information at its source. As the number of interconnected devices continues to expand with the introduction of 5G, as well as the subsequent use of APIs to keep everything connected, Spirion can help you feel confident that your enterprise’s sensitive data is protected from the threats that come with it.

Contact us today to learn how our software can help jump start your data-centric security approach.