What is Hardware Security and the Threats It Faces?

What is Hardware Security and the Threats It Faces?

Securing physical devices from potential threats that can lead to unauthorized access to enterprise systems is known as hardware security. Regarding daily business activities, securing hardware is as important as protecting software.

Hardware security safeguards physical devices, such as computers and servers, from potential threats that could enable unauthorized access to enterprise systems. Hardware security is an enterprise security aspect that protects physical devices, machines, and peripherals.

Dedicated hardware components, such as integrated circuits, can be used to provide cryptographic functions that guard against potential security vulnerabilities and protect against potential attackers.

Hardware security involves the use of physical devices and operations to secure, rather than rely on security programs and applications, such as antivirus software. Regarding physical security, hardware security protects on-premise systems from intentional or accidental tampering or destruction.

This is particularly important as attacks on computing and non-computing connected devices such as machine-to-machine (M2M) or Internet of Things (IoT) systems are becoming increasingly common as they become more widely used.

Hardware-based security is a better option for architectures that connect many hardware devices, as software-based measures are available to secure almost all enterprise environments.

Bad actors can exploit security vulnerabilities when the hardware has data programmed or operated. Any device linked to a network, either solely or indirectly, must be safeguarded from possible threats. Even seemingly insignificant systems, like a smart lighting system, can be targeted by attackers, potentially harming productivity.

Securing hardware such as servers and employee endpoints is essential for running daily operations smoothly.

Additionally, since threat actors may be operating within an organization, it is critical to have a strong internal hardware security policy and a solid external security strategy.

Also Read: Shadow IT: Detection and Control

Why Do Businesses Need Computer Hardware Security?

Businesses need computer hardware security to protect their sensitive data and systems from malicious attacks, unauthorized access, and other threats. It also helps to protect the hardware from damage or destruction, ensuring that the company’s operations can continue uninterrupted.

Furthermore, computer hardware security can help businesses maintain network integrity and prevent data breaches, leading to severe financial and reputational losses.

Computer security encompasses two main forms: software security and hardware security. Software security focuses on protecting software components of a system, such as stored data and data in transmission. By contrast, hardware security involves safeguarding the physical hardware from potential threats.

Limiting access to only authorized people assures the security of the hardware, and this is possible by paying an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for this service.

However, relying on an external provider can create security risks, so many organizations now choose to establish an in-house ISP. This way, the security of the corporate server is directly under their control.

Nodes are essential components of any computer network, acting as either distribution systems or communication endpoints that connect devices to the network. Therefore, companies may enforce the security measures mentioned above to ensure the network’s safety.

The hub is a vital device located at the center of a network and is responsible for exchanging data between connected computers. It serves as a gateway to the network and must be kept in a secure location away from high-traffic areas to prevent tampering.

Threats to Enterprise Hardware Today

Let us look into some of the significant hardware threats that can happen within an enterprise.

  • Counterfeit Hardware

Counterfeiting hardware has become a significant concern for businesses, providing attackers with an easy way to target enterprises.

These devices, which have been either constructed or modified without the permission of the original manufacturer, often contain backdoors and other vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit. This can lead to unauthorized operations and grant attackers access to the company’s systems, making it a severe threat to the security of businesses.

  • Triggering Faults

Hardware attacks originate from areas where inducing or activating faults can disrupt a system’s normal functioning. Used to breach the system security, these faults can allow unauthorized access or leaking of data. Such attacks can have ripple effects on devices that depend on the compromised hardware for regular operations.

Although it is unnecessary for the attacker to have exact knowledge of the targeted device’s weaknesses to execute a successful fault attack, security teams must thoroughly understand the attack vector to create effective countermeasures.

This is challenging, as the fault injection and propagation procedures must be known for every potential vulnerability, and any solutions must not lead to data loss or operational interference.

  • Modification Attacks

Modification attacks are malicious activity that alters the normal functioning of a device, allowing malicious actors to bypass restrictions on hardware operating limits. These attacks go beyond eavesdropping, which involves changing a device’s communication.

Unauthorized parties can access hardware components, inject malicious software, exploit existing vulnerabilities, or modify integrated circuits to introduce hardware Trojans. These modifications allow them to launch man-in-the-middle attacks, where they can receive and alter packets before sending them to the intended recipient.

  • Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping attacks involve an unauthorized party gaining access to a device and obtaining its data without maintaining a constant connection. Inserting a card skimmer into an ATM or a PoS terminal allows the attacker to access the device periodically to collect data.

Additionally, a malicious program can be inserted into a vulnerable device and set up to regularly transmit data to the attacker.

  • Backdoors

Backdoors can be a major security risk as they allow malicious actors to access devices without the owner’s consent. These hidden vulnerabilities are often inserted during the manufacturing stage of a device and are more challenging to patch than software backdoors.

With root access, attackers can install malware or even add malicious code to the system, making it a serious security threat.

  • Vulnerable Customized Hardware

Due to their specialized nature, custom-built hardware solutions often help organizations to optimize their business operations. For example, data centers and tailored systems for engineering and scientific applications are often powered by special chipsets that can provide specific results.

However, very often, inefficient or inadequate evaluation of the security of these unique components and devices creates challenges.

  • Unchanged Default Passwords

Enterprise devices usually come with a ‘default password’ that needs to be changed. Unfortunately, even if a company has advanced software security, it might not pay attention to hardware security. It is common for personnel to keep the default passwords on low-cost IoT devices and hardware that is ready to use.

The passwords are even written on the device and can be seen by anyone with physical access.

  • Inadequate Encryption

As more and more enterprise devices become IP-connected, it is essential to ensure they are properly secured. Data must be encrypted when stored (data at rest) and in transit (data in motion).

Without the appropriate encryption protocols, an attacker can gain access to the network and collect information, or a device could be stolen and its data easily accessed.

Also Read: Security Considerations and Challenges of DBaaS

  • Outdated Firmware

Not all companies in the ‘smart devices’ sector are proficient in IT security. For example, local producers of IoT and IIoT components such as smart HVAC, connected RFID access, and plant robots may produce firmware with many bugs and security issues.

Improper patch management can lead to further problems and new security vulnerabilities. Regularly updating firmware with the latest security patches can help protect sensitive hardware ecosystems.

  • Unsecured Local Access

Hardware utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology is accessible through an on-site interface or a local network.

Unfortunately, many smaller companies overlook configuring and protecting these local access points, leaving the enterprise hardware vulnerable to malicious actors. These actors can then access and manipulate the system with relative ease

Summing Up

Hardware security is integral to creating a secure IT environment where software can safely execute. Hardware is essential in protecting assets from malicious software, which can threaten the functioning of the software stack, from the operating system to application software, through functional or side-channel vulnerabilities.

Hardware security has become an increasingly important topic of discussion among organizations and vendors in different industries.

To ensure the safety of enterprise assets, it is essential to take proactive measures and implement the best practices listed above rather than simply relying on them to protect themselves from any malicious activity. As a result, security teams can now more easily identify and address potential threats.

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