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Defending the Network from IoT Vulnerabilities

Erika Bagby Strategist, Sales Enablement Published 15 Apr 2019

Chances are almost everyone reading this has experienced time in the hospital; either as a patient or a visitor. I can recall back when I was a little girl watching my dad being wheeled into a mysterious room, I wasn’t allowed to follow him. A rare blood disease that had caused his heart attack left our family at the mercy of the doctors. Never questioning the validity of the data, they gathered at his bedside as machines were hooked up to his body. After all, they are doctors. They know everything, right?

At the time my dad was in the hospital we weren’t faced with the pervasive connectivity that has altered the lay of the land in which we operate in today. Now, the machines that help diagnose patients are almost all connected to the internet. Technology has proven extremely beneficial, even powerful, yet equally harmful if in the wrong hands. IoT devices were created with function in mind – not security. This means they are highly susceptible to vulnerabilities for exploitation.

So, why would someone want to hack a medical device? What purpose would that serve? Simply put, data equals power. Power to make demands that serve self-interest in order for the data to be released. Often times, however, it’s not a malicious attack driven by a cloaked individual with a grand plan to take over the world. A far less targeted approach known as a virus is frequently the culprit wreaking havoc on an organization. The tangible and intangible damage a hack causes to an organization is long-lasting and sometimes permanent.

So, picture this, you are the patient now; connected to a medical device. You put your trust into the hands of the doctor for what may be a life or death situation. Imagine a scenario with two potential outcomes. One where Extreme Defender for IoT is connected, and one where it is not.

Extreme Defender for IoT is a combination of hardware and software. The hardware consists of an adapter or compatible access point. The software provides the intelligence which secures the network against back door entries; placing data in the wrong hands.

Take an ECG machine as an example of a likely IoT device in a hospital. It is connected to the network and supplies readings back to physicians on patient health. We know the patient in this example is alive, yet her readings have flat-lined. This is a highly problematic situation and could lead to improper handling of patient care.

Unsecured medical devices have operating systems that are easily breached; allowing hackers to falsify the information on the machine by simple exploitation of known device vulnerabilities. Many IoT devices used across industries run on operating systems built in the early 90s. Operating systems that have well-documented, but unpatched vulnerabilities. The manufacturers of these devices are no longer maintaining and updating the software for these systems. All too often this is the hand dealt for organizations.

Now, envision the same scenario with Extreme’s Defender adapter inline between the ECG machine and the network. Once connected, hospital personnel simply select the appropriate security profile on the dashboard within a catalog of profiles that have been created by IT administrators.

A hacker, in this case, is prevented by a white list model introduced by Defender that drastically reduces the allowed communication between the IoT device and the rest of the network. This ensures the hospital is protected from a costly breach, and more importantly, protects the patient’s health.

Extreme Defender for IoT solves a security problem that plagues many industries; without creating complexity or requiring a massive network refresh. One thing we know for sure about IoT devices is that they are simple to understand based on function. Unlike the majority of the network,  which communicates with multiple users, devices, and requires connectivity with the data center, campus, and off-site locations that may not be controlled by IT; IoT devices have a restricted number of hosts they normally communicate with. In this case, a white list model can be leveraged. That means that when the IoT device connects, the security profile allows it to speak with a specific host and nothing else. Everything else is denied access. Period!

In this video, Senior Product Manager Scott Fincher discusses Defender for IoT with me and walks us through a demonstration of the solution in-action:


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