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It’s All About Identity

Identity is a foundational component of modern security models, allowing organizations to control the data or services a user or account should be able to access. The explosion of IoT, IoMT, OT and other connected devices introduces significant gaps in identity-based security while creating new challenges and posing questions:

What is an identity for these devices that do not inherently have what we think of as an identity? 

How can we close the gap and bring identity-based controls to these critical devices? 

This post looks deeper into the challenges, these questions, and how Ordr helps provide answers in a straightforward and automated way.

It’s the End of Identity as We Know It…and I Feel Fine?

There are several methods organizations use to establish and verify identity for their users and assets. Unfortunately, none of these methods work well for the new class of connected devices. 

Traditional devices such as laptops and workstations can be associated with a specific user and can be reliably linked to that user’s identity. Security teams can also verify the identity of a device by installing certificates or using USB keys. When a high-value asset is accessed, multi-factor authentication mechanisms can be leveraged by sending the user a passcode via email or text to be provided for additional verification. 

The new class of connected devices are rapidly increasing in numbers and can be found everywhere in enterprise environments. Connected devices include everything from consumer products and phones to printers and media displays. In industrial settings IIoT and OT devices span the range of sensors to the multi-million dollar equipment essential to manufacturing lines. In healthcare, IoMT includes a vast array of medical devices from health monitoring equipment to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners that are critical to delivering care and ensuring patient safety.

Connected devices are increasingly critical infrastructure in organizations across industries, yet these devices can’t be managed the same as traditional devices. The simple task of installing enterprise certificates or endpoint agents is virtually impossible since many of these devices run embedded operating systems or are agentless. Even if agents could be installed, the vast diversity of hardware and software variations of IoT devices makes it almost impossible for vendors to develop and support agents. 

Connected devices are commonly found with software stacks from various sources layered on embedded and customized operating systems. For these devices, any tool that uses a map of the processes to perform behavioral analysis is virtually useless. 

Integrated firmware running on connected devices typically prevents any new software from being installed to ensure security and device reliability. As an example, new software can’t be installed on a piece of medical equipment once it’s gone through FDA certification. 

Multi-factor authentication is another non-starter for IoT. An infusion pump can’t be expected to receive and provide a passcode to verify its identity. 

Bringing Ordr to the Chaos of IoT Identity

With all of these limitations, how is identity determined and used for connected devices? The best unique identifier (not identity) is a device MAC address or serial number. MAC addresses are at least trackable (although easily spoofable), but serial numbers are nearly impossible to track and manage. 

Ordr takes a new approach that doesn’t require IT and security teams to manually track the endless minutia of device details or do anything to update or change devices. Instead, Ordr automatically and passively analyzes the behavior of each device and recognizes a device’s identity based on what it actually does (i.e., the device communication). 

To illustrate, let’s look at a device that claims to be a printer. Does it act like a printer? How do we know how a printer should act? 

To answer this a large number of printers must be studied to understand what printers normally do, the protocols they speak, destinations they connect with, packet patterns they exhibit, etc. 

With sufficient sampling a baseline can be established and used to verify if a new “printer” behaves like all the other printers previously seen - if it walks and squawks like a printer, then it’s probably a printer.

It’s also important to understand normal behavior for a particular environment. It’s not enough to know if a printer is behaving within the norms of other printers - it’s essential to know if the printer is behaving like my other printers. Is it talking to the appropriate management server, using the appropriate network segments, and so on. 

The combination of global and local insights into behavior gives a very reliable approach to understanding a device’s identity. Just as importantly, it is a passive, hands-off approach that doesn’t require more work from staff or to change anything on the device itself.

As a result, Ordr is able to easily establish identity and continuously monitor it throughout its life cycle. Reach out to us to learn more about how Ordr can help with identity and security for all your IoT, IoMT, OT and other connected devices.

About the Author

Pandian has more than 20 years of product and engineering leadership experience and is also a serial entrepreneur. Before founding Ordr, he was the Chief Development Officer at Aruba, responsible for all of engineering and product management functions. Aruba, an enterprise mobile wireless company, was acquired by HPE for $3 Billion in March 2015. Before Aruba, Pandian served as the head of engineering for Cisco’s multi-billion-dollar Wi-Fi business unit and before that as VP of engineering for low-end switching product lines. He graduated with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT, Chennai, India and holds several patents to his credit in various networking technologies.

Profile Photo of Pandian Gnanaprakasam