Guarding Against IoT Attacks: Strategies and Best Practices

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to boost the security of your IoT devices and defend them against potential cyber threats.

[Featured Image] A cybersecurity professional sits at a desk and works to prevent IoT attacks.

According to Statista, the global count of Internet of Things (IoT) attacks exceeded 112 million in 2022, a significant increase from the 32 million cases identified in 2018 [1]. This data begs the question: what renders IoT devices vulnerable to attacks? Are there viable methods to minimize these risks?

Read on to delve deeper into IoT devices and their security, along with strategies you can implement to guard against unauthorized access and malicious attacks.

What is an IoT device?

Sometimes referred to as a “smart” machine, an IoT device features precise programming to operate designated applications or software, enabling it to support internet connectivity and communicate with other devices over the internet. Think of these devices as the “T” in IoT—the devices outfitted with sensors and other technology allowing them to connect via the internet and exchange information.

Typically, IoT devices can integrate and sync with smartphones, allowing you to control them via dedicated mobile apps. For instance, you can remotely configure and monitor a smart home security system using your Android or Apple device. If you use Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or a wearable fitness tracker, you’ve already used an IoT device.

What are IoT attacks?

An IoT attack refers to any activity that attempts to compromise the security of an IoT device or network. From gaining control over your extensive wireless network to misusing applications and software systems, the ramifications of IoT attacks can be significant.

What makes IoT devices susceptible to vulnerabilities?

IoT devices often lack an inherent security mechanism to defend against potential cyber threats.

The reasoning behind this lapse can be attributed to the fact that IoT devices have relatively simple functions, leading to frequent oversight of their security. Vulnerabilities in IoT devices can manifest in several ways, including:

  • Unencrypted data transmission

  • Obsolete device hardware

  • Unprotected network ports

  • Insufficient privacy protection measures

  • Weak passwords

What is an IoT attack surface?

An IoT attack surface refers to the collective set of potential security vulnerabilities in IoT devices, the software they run, and their associated network infrastructure. The need for a universally accepted set of security standards in the IoT industry is a significant challenge that impacts the development and manufacturing of IoT devices.

Types of IoT attacks

More than one type of attack can affect connected devices. Let’s explore some notable types of IoT attacks to get a clearer understanding of the threat.

1. Brute-force password attack

In this type of IoT attack, hackers will attempt to use every combination of characters until they find the correct one. This method can take a substantial amount of time and effort, but cybercriminals can find success, particularly if the password you have set is weak or easily guessable.

2. Physical tampering

In physical tampering, threat actors may exploit open ports, exposed circuits, or physical access to your device to steal data or install malware. The malware can act as a gateway for further cyberattacks.

3. Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack

During an MITM attack, the attacker situates themselves between two trusted entities, like an IoT sensor and a cloud server, which are actively communicating. Doing so allows the perpetrator to intercept and eavesdrop on the data being exchanged between them, potentially violating sensitive information.

4. Firmware hijacking

IoT manufacturers offer a variety of software and updates for their respective products. Threat actors can take advantage of this diversity by posting fraudulent updates or drivers online. Failing to verify your IoT device drivers could allow attackers to hijack your device and install malicious software.

How to prevent IoT attacks

How can you prevent unauthorized access and safeguard against potential IoT threats? Let’s explore some strategies you can use.

1. Stay current with firmware updates.

When installing a new IoT device, check the vendor's website for security patches to address known vulnerabilities. You can also opt for a recurring plan for patch management and firmware upgrades.

2. Connect IoT devices judiciously.

Although many contemporary devices, like refrigerators, speakers, and televisions, come with internet connectivity, not all features mandate it. Scrutinize your device's capabilities to pinpoint those that truly require an internet connection. By limiting internet connectivity to essential functions, you reduce the attack surface and enhance the overall security of your network.

3. Establish physical security for IoT devices.

Let's say you have a smart lock, which you can control remotely via the internet, installed on your front door. Without adequate physical protection, this smart lock becomes vulnerable to unauthorized access and tampering. Recognizing the importance of physical security is the first step toward preventing intrusion.

4. Set strong passwords.

A weak password is akin to leaving all the doors and windows to your digital world wide open. If hackers manage to guess or acquire your password for one device, it could potentially grant them access to all devices sharing that password. Employing secure, hard-to-guess passwords offers the best possible defense against these types of threats. A robust password should be complex and contain a combination of numbers, special characters, and upper and lower-case letters.

5. Utilize intrusion detection tools.

Like antivirus software, intrusion detection systems diligently monitor your network for any indicators of abnormal activity, effectively preventing potential threats from undermining your device's security.

What is the US Cyber Trust Mark?

In July 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration unveiled a cybersecurity certification and labeling initiative to simplify the selection of safer, more resilient smart devices for the American public. Proposed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the aim of the US Cyber Trust Mark program is to elevate cybersecurity standards for a range of everyday devices, including smart appliances, fitness trackers, smart thermostats, and more [2].

The program has received backing from companies such as Amazon, Google, LG Electronics, Best Buy, Samsung Electronics, and Logitech. The FCC has scheduled the official program launch for 2024.

Did you know? In 2020, Congress passed the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which established security standards for IoT devices owned by the federal government. The law grants the chief information officer (CIO) the authority to restrict agency heads from using IoT devices that hinder compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s standards [3].


Get started with Coursera.

Deepen your understanding of IoT security with the University System of Georgia’s Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things course, available on Coursera. This course will help you learn more about security policies and practices that can effectively mitigate risks in a business environment. You will need approximately 11 hours to complete this course, following which you will earn a sharable certificate.

Article sources


Statista. “Annual number of Internet of Things (IoT) malware attacks worldwide from 2018 to 2022,” Accessed April 2, 2024.

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