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What Makes an IoT Device Vulnerable?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly permeating modern society, from end-users to enterprises and industrial usage. The rapid growth in connected IoT devices creates many possibilities, but it also introduces significant cybersecurity risks. 

A vulnerable device can risk IoT security by giving cyber criminals access to connected networks, enabling them to steal critical corporate data and user credentials. Organizations therefore must understand how to secure IoT devices and recognize the top IoT vulnerabilities they face.

An IoT device typically lacks the required built-in security to counter security threats. Common vulnerabilities and exposures allow cyber criminals to breach the device and use it as a foothold to launch sophisticated cyberattacks.

Significant IoT threats to devices include: 

  1. Limited compute and hardware: IoT devices have limited computational abilities, which leaves minimal space for the robust data protection and security required to defend against cyberattacks.
  2. Varied transmission technology: IoT devices use a range of transmission technology, making it challenging to implement sufficient security methods and protocols.
  3. Vulnerable components: The basic components of IoT devices are often vulnerable, which leaves millions of smart devices open to attack.
  4. User security awareness: Organizations’ users are one of the biggest security threats. A lack of security awareness and failure to implement best practices can leave IoT devices vulnerable to attacks.

How Do IoT Devices Vulnerabilities Affect Users?

Cyber criminals search for vulnerabilities in IoT devices to launch attacks on organizations and end-users. Examples of how IoT device vulnerabilities can affect users include:

  1. Lateral network movement: Cyber criminals can use the initial breach of a vulnerable device to move deeper into corporate networks. An attacker looks to exploit a vulnerability in a machine then escalate their privileges. They then use lateral movement to reach critical data and spread malware through a network.
  2. IoT botnets: Cyber criminals use botnets, which are large networks of devices, such as routers, to launch large-scale cyberattacks like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Botnets pool multiple infected devices managed from a command-and-control (C&C) server. For example, in 2016, the Mirai botnet took down a series of significant services and websites, including gaming services. Mirai targeted insecure devices using a botnet code that was released into the wild for other hackers to exploit. 
  3. Evolving botnets: The growth of the IoT poses a risk of botnets evolving and becoming an even more significant threat to users. This could happen through peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing technologies that enable an attacker to connect devices without requiring a central server, which makes prevention near-impossible.
  4. Household devices: The IoT is increasingly permeating the home with connected appliances, digital assistants, wearables, health trackers, and more. IoT service vulnerabilities can present new entry points to other devices connected to home networks, such as laptops and computers. If these devices are used to work from home or as part of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, hackers may also be able to gain access to corporate networks.
  5. Existing device issues: Attackers can target IoT devices with known existing issues to access internal networks. They can then launch attacks, like Domain Name System (DNS) rebinding attacks, to exfiltrate data from networks and devices connected to home or corporate networks.

Top IoT Device Vulnerabilities

IoT devices can be compromised through a wide range of vulnerabilities. Top IoT vulnerabilities include: 

1. Weak/Hardcoded Passwords

Weak or hardcoded passwords are among the most frequent methods attackers use to compromise IoT devices. Weak and reused passwords, which are short or easy to guess, are simple for attackers to crack, which they then use to compromise devices and launch large-scale attacks.

2. Insecure Networks

Insecure networks make it easy for cyber criminals to exploit weaknesses in the protocols and services that run on IoT devices. Once they have exploited a network, attackers can breach confidential or sensitive data that travels between user devices and the server. Insecure networks are particularly susceptible to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, which aim to steal credentials and authenticate devices as part of broader cyberattacks. 

3. Insecure Ecosystem Interfaces

Insecure ecosystem interfaces, such as application programming interfaces (APIs) and mobile and web applications, allow attackers to compromise a device. Organizations need to implement authentication and authorization processes that validate users and protect their cloud and mobile interfaces. Practical identity tools help the server differentiate valid devices from malicious users.

4. Insecure Update Mechanisms

Devices with insecure update processes risk installing malicious or unauthorized code, firmware, and software. Corrupt updates can compromise IoT devices, which could be critical for organizations in the energy, healthcare, and industrial sectors. Updates need to be secure and on encrypted channels, while all software must be validated and approved.

5. Insecure or Outdated Components

The IoT ecosystem can be compromised by code and software vulnerabilities and legacy systems. Using insecure or outdated components, such as open-source code or third-party software, can present vulnerabilities that expand an organization’s attack surface

6. Lack of Proper Privacy Protection

IoT devices often collect personal data that organizations need to securely store and process to comply with various data privacy regulations. Failing to protect this data can lead them open to fines, a loss of reputation, and lost business. Failing to implement sufficient security can lead to data leaks that jeopardize user privacy.

7. Insecure Data Transfer and Storage

Data that IoT devices receive or transmit across networks needs to be secured and restricted from unauthorized users. This is critical to maintaining the integrity and reliability of IoT applications and organizations’ decision-making processes.

8. Improper Device Management

Failing to manage devices properly throughout their lifecycle leaves them open to vulnerability exploitation, even if they are no longer in use. Businesses need to understand which assets or devices are connected to their networks and manage them properly. Unauthorized or inactive devices can provide attackers with access to corporate networks, enabling them to steal or intercept sensitive data. This makes the discovery and identification of IoT devices crucial to monitoring and protecting devices. 

9. Insecure Default Settings

IoT devices, like personal devices, ship with default and hardcoded settings that enable simple setup. However, these default settings are highly insecure and easy for attackers to breach. Once compromised, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in a device’s firmware and launch broader attacks against companies. 

10, Lack of Physical Hardening

The nature of IoT devices sees them deployed in remote environments instead of controlled situations that are easy to manage. This makes them easier for attackers to target and disrupt, manipulate, or sabotage.

How To Protect IoT Devices From Vulnerabilities

Organizations can protect themselves against IoT device vulnerabilities by following best practices that ensure Internet of Things security. However, wider IoT vulnerabilities can be prevented by various stakeholders through shared responsibility.


Internet of Things device security begins with manufacturers addressing known vulnerabilities in their products, releasing patches for existing vulnerabilities, and reporting when support ends. It is also crucial for manufacturers to put security at the heart of IoT product design and conduct tests, such as penetration tests, to ensure no vulnerabilities have opened up throughout production. They also need to implement processes for accepting vulnerability reports on their products.


Users must understand the security risks that surround the IoT connected devices. They must prioritize IoT device security and protect laptops, mobile phones, and routers that connect to them. They must know how to secure IoT devices on home networks, change default passwords, update device firmware and software, enable automatic updates, and ensure secure settings are in place to prevent Internet of Things vulnerabilities.


Organizations also need to protect all connected devices and secure their networks using encryption or public key infrastructure methods. They must also constantly monitor their systems for unusual and potentially malicious activity using tools like an IoT vulnerability scanner.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet provides organizations with the tools they need to prevent IoT device vulnerabilities through its range of Fortinet IoT solutions. Through enhanced network visibility built into these solutions, organizations can see whenever users or endpoints enter or interact with their IT environment. Fortinet also offers increased network control, enabling organizations to restrict access to devices and reduce the time it takes to address security issues. 

Fortinet IoT solutions include FortiGuard Labs and Fortinet Security Fabric, which improve management and control of IoT policies and offer deeper intelligence into device discovery.