4 Ways PKI Helps Secure IoT Devices

From smart factories to retail, healthcare, automotive, utilities, and enterprise organizations, the Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere. By capturing and providing valuable real-time insights, IoT is enabling better decision making and unlocking disruptive business opportunities for organizations of all sectors and sizes.

One of the key drivers for the rapid growth of IoT is the Industry 4.0 revolution, which has accelerated the convergence of IT and OT systems. Gartner predicts, by 2025, 75% of OT security solutions will be interoperable with IT security solutions. It is also estimated that, by 2025, IoT devices are expected to outnumber non-IoT by 3:1.

With a Greater Number of IoT Devices, a Larger Attack Surface Emerges

As IoT devices continue to proliferate, the attack surface is constantly evolving and expanding. As every IoT device is a potential entry point into a larger network, there has been a significant surge in IoT-targeted attacks in recent times.

According to Check Point Research, in 2023, on an average, 54% of organizations suffer from attempted cyberattacks targeting IoT devices every week, which is 41% higher than in 2022, and more than triple the number of attacks from 2 years ago.

Due to widespread deployment and deep interconnectivity, cyberattacks on IoT can have catastrophic consequences, especially in sectors such as healthcare and critical infrastructure, where shutting down mission-critical systems can put people’s safety at risk. For example, an attacker gaining control over smart grid devices could cause power outages over a large area, affecting hospitals, transportation systems, and other essential services.

Automate and scale your private PKI to protect the entire modern infrastructure

Here are some of the common IoT security challenges that organizations face:

  • Vulnerable location: IoT devices are generally distributed across the edge, outside the purview of perimeter security, making them easily susceptible to attacks.
  • Poor data protection: The use of weak encryption standards makes it easy for hackers to compromise devices and steal data.
  • Firmware or software corruption: Cybercriminals tamper with device software during provisioning and upgrades.
  • Outdated software running on devices: IoT devices run different and even unsafe software versions, resulting in security risks and non-compliance issues.

Securing the IoT By Design and at Scale with PKI

As the number of IoT devices increases and more cybersecurity threats emerge, it becomes more important than ever to safeguard IoT devices and their data. As perimeter-based security becomes less effective, a recommended approach is to switch from device-focused security to identity-first security for IoT. This can be best implemented with public key infrastructure (PKI).

Founded on the basis of identity, PKI has been foundational for internet security for decades, ensuring safe network access and secure online communications. It is now also evolving as a powerful security solution capable of meeting the device and data security requirements of IoT.

Here are four ways PKI helps secure IoT devices throughout their lifetime:

1. Reliable Device Authentication

Authenticating IoT devices is one of the first steps to preventing device compromises. PKI enables fool-proof authentication by provisioning IoT devices with unique identities in the form of X.509 digital certificates. These certificates can be authenticated when IoT devices attempt to communicate with the corporate network or cloud application.

Here’s how PKI certificates can be used to protect IoT devices through their lifecycle:

  • IoT vendors can embed PKI certificates into IoT devices right off the assembly line making the devices tamper-proof by design. Provisioning unique device identities at the time of manufacturing helps monitor and manage IoT devices at a granular level.
  • Customers can authenticate IoT devices via their PKI certificates to ensure safe deployment. Valid certificates are an indication of the integrity of the operating system and applications on the device.
  • IoT devices can mutually authenticate each other while initiating communication using PKI certificates issued by a common root of trust. This helps ensure communications between the devices and the network are trusted, facilitating secure IoT operations.

In addition, PKI-based authentication is significantly more secure and faster than conventional authentication mechanisms as cryptographic keys remove the need for passwords and tokens, making it an ideal fit for mass IoT deployments.

2. Secure Device Communication

IoT devices are only as good as the data they collect. If the data cannot be trusted, it cannot be used. Hence, it is critical to ensure that the data collected by IoT devices is confidential and unaltered while it is stored or being transferred. To help achieve this, PKI provides end-to-end data encryption. Using the combination of a private key and a public key, data both at rest and in transit can be encrypted to maintain data integrity and confidentiality. As asymmetric keys come with minimal footprint, they are also well suited for IoT devices with limited computing resources.

3. Double Layered Security for Software or Firmware

Software or firmware tampering is another security challenge in IoT adoption. To overcome this challenge and ensure that the software or firmware updates are safe and reliable, PKI provides manufacturers with an effective process for code signing or firmware signing.
Code signing is a security practice where software developers can digitally sign their code with a private key to prevent hackers from tampering with the device’s software. This digital signature will also serve as proof of authenticity and integrity of the code for customers installing the software. Customers can verify the digital signature with the help of the public key associated with the private key used to sign the code. If the digital signature is validated, it means the code hasn’t been compromised since it was signed. Code signing is an excellent way to ensure only the correct and safe version of software/firmware is installed to prevent the risk of software supply chain attacks.

4. Enterprise-level OT Compliance

Considering the sensitivity of data IoT devices collect and the increase in IoT-based attacks, data privacy governing bodies have introduced various regulations and security standards to mitigate cyber threats. ETSI EN 303 64, NIST IoT Security Framework, US FTC, and ENISA are some of the standards regulating the IoT space. Complying with these regulations is essential to stay secure and avoid huge penalties.

One of the biggest concerns around IoT compliance is the use of unsafe and outdated software versions. PKI helps address this issue by establishing strong access controls and systemic live policies for secure firmware and software updates. With automated PKI solutions, organizations can enforce a uniform PKI policy and conditional access to ensure all IoT devices have valid identities and run the latest, thoroughly-vetted software/firmware versions for industry-standard OT compliance. PKI also helps implement strong authentication and encryption for IoT devices, often recommended by industry regulations. By adopting well-defined, context-aware security policies, organizations can secure the IoT device lifecycle, inherently reduce the risk of data breaches, and ensure compliance.

2023 EMA Report: SSL/TLS Certificate Security-Management and Expiration Challenges

Building a Secure IoT Ecosystem with PKI

Establishing trust and security is fundamental to harnessing the enormous potential that IoT promises. PKI is a cost-effective and scalable solution that meets the core security demands of today’s massive IoT deployments by providing a high degree of trust through authentication and encryption. In addition, PKI is also flexible enough to adapt and secure a variety of IoT use cases. As IoT adoption continues to expand, PKI is stepping up IoT security by providing every “thing” with an identity.

How AppViewX CERT+ Helps Secure IoT

AppViewX CERT+ is a next-gen certificate lifecycle management solution that helps automate the entire lifecycle of certificates end-to-end. It allows organizations to perform all certificate lifecycle functions, such as enrollment, renewal, revocation, and provisioning, from a single central console. Additionally, it helps simplify and fortify IoT security by providing:

  1. Automated enrollment and provisioning of device identities
  2. Certificate lifecycle management through MDM
  3. Certificate lifecycle management through the AppViewX CERT+ agent
  4. Code signing or firmware signing for secure boot
  5. Robust policy and compliance enforcement engine

Want to learn more? Visit https://www.appviewx.com/solutions/iot-device-security/

Or talk to one of our experts today!


  • iot devices
  • IoT Ecosystem
  • PKI
  • PKI management
  • Secure IoT

About the Author

Krupa Patil

Product Marketing Manager

A content creator focused on providing readers and prospective buyers with accurate, useful, and latest product information to help them make better informed decisions.

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