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Researchers make IoT configuration more secure and easy-to-use

12 September 2015

UK researchers have identified easy-to-use techniques to configure IoT objects, to make them more secure and help protect them from online attacks.

Image: Shutterstock

Increased connectivity brings additional risk. Setting personalised and strong passwords when connecting new devices to the Internet - for example, through our home Wi-Fi networks - can mitigate such risks.

However, many IoT devices have limited interfaces: just a few buttons (if any at all) and light indicators, making it challenging for users to configure them. If secure configuration becomes complicated, users may choose easier, less secure options that leave their devices vulnerable.

Researchers from the University of Southampton compared four interaction techniques for the configuration of IoT devices, looking for methods that allowed security, but were quick and easy to use. All four techniques used the smartphone touchscreen to let users enter secure passwords.

Two of the techniques used a more ‘traditional’ approach by connecting the smartphone and the IoT device through a USB or audio cable, via the smartphone’s headphone socket.

The third technique used a ‘Wi-Fi-only approach, where the smartphone creates a special temporary Wi-Fi network, or ‘ad-hoc network’, to which the IoT device automatically connects before being redirected to the correct permanent network.

The final option was the smartphone and the IoT device exchanging information through light: the smartphone's screen flashed black and white to mean binary 'zero' or 'one'; the IoT device read this light/binary pattern to learn the password from the smartphone.

The results found that two of the techniques were noticeably more usable than the others - the audio cable and the Wi-Fi-only interactions.

“IoT objects can be attacked and possibly hijacked, putting our privacy, data and safety in question," says the University of Southampton's Dr Enrico Costanz. "We believe that our results can help designers and researchers make IoT devices, and especially their configuration, more usable and therefore secure.

"Moreover, we believe that not enough attention has been placed on how to make the IoT easy to use and to configure, so we hope that our results will motivate others in researching this topic.”


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