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NIST's New Crypto Standard a Step Forward in IoT Security

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has settled on a standard for encrypting IoT communications, but many devices remain vulnerable and unpatched.

A new encryption standard for Internet of Things (IoT) should help advance security for these connected devices in businesses, manufacturers, critical infrastructure, and other sectors running this equipment.

But many of these devices continue to lag behind in cybersecurity functions and practices.

On Feb. 7, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced it had selected a group of cryptographic algorithms, known as Ascon, to be the formal encryption standard for "lightweight" electronic devices and their communications. The standard should help devices makers and their customers better secure the data and devices from attackers increasingly targeting operational technology even though such devices have limited processing power and storage.

The algorithms allow encryption protections for even the smallest devices, NIST computer scientist Kerry McKay said in the announcement of the standard.

"The world is moving toward using small devices for lots of tasks ranging from sensing to identification to machine control, and because these small devices have limited resources, they need security that has a compact implementation," she said. "These algorithms should cover most devices that have these sorts of resource constraints."

Why IoT Is Exploding

Connected devices in business and industrial settings are a rapidly growing application driven by two major forces over the past three years. Initially, the pandemic spurred the need to support remote operations, while the current concerns of a recession are pushing companies to automate operations using connected devices.

For example, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — an umbrella term for connected devices that monitor and control physical systems and industrial processes — is predicted to grow dramatically. The number of industrial IoT connections — a measure of the number of devices deployed — is expected to more than double to 36.8 billion in 2025, up from 17.7 billion in 2020, according to Juniper Research. 

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