Guest Column | May 30, 2018

This IOT Thing — How Should MSPs Support It?

By Corey Kirkendoll, president & CEO, 5K Technical Services

Retailers Anticipate Substantial Changes Driven By IoT

Here are 6 steps to help your business evolve in the age of IoT.

Every day, major changes occur in the Information Technology field. As an MSP myself, I know we are constantly trying to keep up with the new, more destructive and invasive attacks that happen around the globe on a daily basis. But how do we prepare for the invasion of IoT devices into our clients and the MSP environment?  Andrew Meola, of Business Insider Magazine defines an IoT devices as, “Any stand-alone internet-connected device that can be monitored and/or controlled from a remote location is considered an IoT device.”  From this definition, basically anything can be an IoT device (e.g. thermostats, door sensors, smart lights, RFID tags, etc.) Because of the fact these devices can be almost anything, and because they are so readily available, they pose a big issue to MSPs trying to determine how they design and support customer networks going forward.

The problem today is that our PSA and RMM tools are ready for neither the proliferation of IoT devices nor the rate at which they are being deployed and adopted by businesses today. The traditional RMM does a fair job of monitoring servers and switches but are not that good at handling other networked devices. Most new IoT devices are smaller, run proprietary operating systems with very little if any intelligence, and they lack proper protocols for updates and basic security protocols and practices. So you, as an MSP, can sit back and wait for something bad to happen, or you can be proactive when it comes to IOT devices by doing the following:

1. Properly design the network

You need to make sure you are following the basic network segmentation principles, such as proper network segmentation. Make sure you are properly protecting the high-value assets on the network such as the servers and user workstations with VLANS and proper routing. You will also want to make sure you have accurately segmented the different traffic types such as private network for staff and the guest network for visitors. It’s important that you ensure there is no way these two can reach or talk to one another. If possible, you can start to design your network now to segment all IoT devices by putting them on their own VLAN and or separate LAN segment. This will allow you some control of the network. Keep in mind it will have to be monitored frequently to ensure no IoT device creeps onto the private on prohibited segments of the network.

2. Block it with a Policy

You will want to update any network access and other policies to include how to handle and deal with IoT devices. You will want to make sure that all departments understand how to get approval and proper deployment of an IoT device on the network. This is a must, because it will help MSPs and their customers get a better handle on what is plugged into their network and why it is needed.

3. Watch the network for any changes in behavior

You will want to keep an eye on the network. Watch for any changes to and from the environment. If you see new traffic patterns, immediately identify and take proper actions to segment them. You will also want to watch and lock down any open ports that may be available. As an MSP, you should be running periodic network scans to ensure nothing has snuck onto the network without your knowledge.

4. Perform a wireless analysis on the environment

It is known that most IoT devices communicate through either a Bluetooth, WiFi, RFID, NFR, LoRaWAN, SIGfox , Zigbee, or cellular connection or a combination of these.  This can cause some serious wireless interference and performance problems for you customer’s network as a whole. If your customer is experiencing some weird Wi-fi and connectivity issues, you may want to see if they have been hit by an IoT device extension within their environment.

5. Look for IoT monitoring products

As the old RMM tools play catch up, you can look at the new IoT management tools popping up all over the place. This is extremely important because if you wait for your current RMM or PSA tool to catch up, you leave your customer at risk. Here are a few I found to be helpful.

  • Pubnub  (www.pubnub.com): They provide a platform that allows you to communicate or use their API to monitor, analyze, and control IoT Devices.
  • Domotz (www.domotz.com): They provide a monitoring platform that monitors, alerts, and maps out all devices connected to the network. With domotz, you will be alerted to take action if any new device connects to the network.

6. Security and the lack of security with IoT Devices

We have talked about things connecting to the network and them communicating to an external device or system without your knowledge. As you can imagine this poses huge security issues based on open protocols and open ports, makes it hard to secure what is being transmitted, and how is it being protected. You can also see how privacy and other security concerns become relevant pretty quickly. With more and more IoT devices being connected to networks and collecting vital information about users, statistics, and other controls, this creates some unique issues for MSPs and their customers. You will need to ensure you and your customers have a plan in place to address and be ready to react if there is an incident.

The bottom line is that MSPs need to evolve as the IoT devices start to become more and more accessible. You can either wait or get in front of this new issue. I would recommend you get in front of it and properly prepare your business and your customers for this new breed of devices that are coming. According to Gartner’s VP and distinguished analyst Nick Jones, “The IoT demands an extensive range of new technologies and skills that many organizations have yet to master. A recurring theme in the IoT space is the immaturity of technologies and services and of the vendors providing them. Architecting for this immaturity and managing the risk it creates will be a key challenge for organizations exploiting the IoT. In many technology areas, lack of skills will also pose significant challenges.” This is an opportunity for all MSPs to stay relevant to their customers and help them navigate this new frontier. The question is where will you be and what will you do going forward?

This new IOT movement will be one of the biggest challenge MSPs and their customers will face since VoIP, cloud services, and BYOD. You will see a whole new pressure from your customers and the industry to provide the “next big thing” in IT.  As an MSP, you will have to practice a higher level of patience and flexibility in order to handle the new challenges of planning, designing, securing, and monitoring a network of connected devices and deal with the pressure to make it happen now. This is where you have to be proactive with your tools to ensure they are providing you with the right solutions in order for you to grow and continue to provide the best level of service to your clients today and in the future.

Sources

https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3221818
http://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-definitio