Recent news headlines report alarming intrusions into otherwise strong, well-defended networks. How did these incursions happen? Did perpetrators compromise executive laptops or critical servers? No, these highly visible endpoints are too well defended. Instead, hackers targeted low-profile, low-value network components like overlooked network routers, switches, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  


Why are network and IoT devices becoming the target of choice for skilled hackers? Two reasons. First, vendors do not engineer these devices to rigorously repel intruders. Unlike servers and desktops, the network/IoT device OS is highly specialized, which ironically may make it more difficult to secure. However, vendors do not make the effort to harden these platforms. Second, these devices are out of sight and out of mind. As a result, many of them may be approaching technical obsolescence and are no longer supported.

Many of us remember recently how the Mirai IoT botnet compromised millions of Internet-enabled DVRs, IP cameras, and other consumer devices to launch a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against major DNS providers to “brown out” vast regions of the internet. For many, this attack was simply an inconvenience. However, what if IoT devices or weakly defended routers and switches were compromised in a way that impacted our offices, warehouses, and storefronts? We can easily see how weak devices are targeted and compromised to disrupt commercial operations. Many companies use outdated routers, switches, and weakly secured IoT devices. So how do we protect ourselves?


One solution is to forbid any outside electronics into the workplace, which is my vote, though I know this is increasingly unrealistic. But “where there is a will there is a waiver” is a common response I hear. A second solution is to retire old hardware and upgrade firmware containing verified vulnerabilities. Another approach would be to design, build, and implement a separate network access scheme to accommodate IoT devices so they do not interfere with corporate network productivity. Once this network is operational, then it is the job of the corporate technology engineers and security to ensure they are used in an appropriate manner. To complement these strategies, it’s helpful to have mature change management processes, a network configuration, and a change management (NCCM) solution with EOL, vulnerability assessment, and configuration management capabilities. 


Fortunately, these solutions are straightforward. By using a combination of technical and procedural controls, you can alleviate much of the risk. There is a direct correlation between configuration management and security management. So in reality, one of the best security tools in your toolbox is your network configuration and change management software. Using the right tools and taking deliberate and sensible steps can go a long way to keep your company out of the headlines.


About the author

Eric Hodeen is a Solarwinds expert and THWACK MVP with over 20 years’ experience in network engineering with expertise in network management and operations and STIG, PCI and NIST compliance.  Eric has designed, implemented and managed networks for the Department of Defense across the US and Europe.  He earned his MS Management of Technology with a specialization in security from the University of Texas at San Antonio and holds numerous certifications including Cisco CCNA R&S, CCDA, CCNA Security, CCNP Security, Juniper JNCIA/JNCIS, ITIL V2, Security+CE and COMPTIA CASP.