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How do IoT businesses benefit from remote device access and how easy is it to set up?

This is the second in a series of blog posts dedicated to the topic of security to mark the launch of the EMnify Guide for Cellular IoT Security which you can download here

 

The benefits of a successful IoT solution are numerous, complementary and wide-reaching. With all the opportunities that IoT connectivity presents, there are security vulnerabilities, communication challenges and logistical obstacles. Remote access is a key ingredient in addressing these problems and is very straight-forward to set-up. 

Consider two scenarios:  

  • Devices are local. The IoT connectivity-enabled device is within the developer’s private network. He or she can log in to the device, read log files, run device commands and can even reset the device with one simple push of a button.  
     
  • Devices are with the customer in the field. The developer has no access to this external network. In order to troubleshoot a possible issue, he or she can only rely on the data being sent from the device, offering little to no visibility. 

To understand the problem posed by this second scenario – imagine a malfunctioning elevator where the actions pre-programmed to resolve potential issues are simply not working. In this situation, the service personnel have no option but to physically go onsite to troubleshoot the issue, using up valuable resources.  

Possible Remote Access Solutions 

In the early days, businesses used static public IP addresses to log in to devices remotely – much like a public web server. However, leaving devices in the public domain makes them vulnerable to hacker attacks – either via bugs or brute force password attacks. This is not dissimilar to what happened with the Mirai botnet attacks.  

second approach is to use private IP addresses and deploy a VPN or remote management client on each device that connects to a central server. This way, the client establishes a secure connection to a VPN server and the developer can then first log in to the central server and from there into the device itself, offering more real-time oversight. Unfortunately, not all IoT devices possess enough processing and energy capacity to run the remote client software. What’s more, managing the different VPN clients and updates is cumbersome, especially when different types of device are involved. Meaning, this option is also less than ideal.  

Preferred Solution

A better approach is to get remote device access using a virtual private network and static private IP addresses offered by the cellular connectivity provider.  

  • The devices are hidden within the cellular provider network and no attacker can scan or send traffic towards the devices.  
  • The virtual private network is not built up between each device but only between the mobile network infrastructure and the VPN client of the administrator.  
  • The administrator can access the device by authenticating with the VPN Gateway of the mobile network so he can login to the device. 

With traditional operators this setup is time consuming, complex and expensive, because they need to setup a private APN which is required to manage the static IP addresses. The private APN had to be announced within the operator DNS and be configured in the customer device. It is not uncommon to spend several weeks and hundreds of Euros for the setup and a monthly charge for private IP addresses and the VPN. 

The EMnify Solution 

What remote access options does EMnify provide? 

EMnify provides private static IP addresses that serve as the basis to enabling remote access, free of charge. Each SIM card will obtain a separate private IP address without the need to setup or pay for a private APN. 

 

Remote Access Image-19

  1. OpenVPN

By using an Open VPN client, EMnify customers can directly access their devices from any workstation, laptop or virtual machine. With the use of an OpenVPN client, customers can connect to the EMnify VPN Gateway, gaining access to all devices. Remote access communication between the VPN Gateway and the Laptop is encrypted.   

  1. IPSec

Businesses that wish to add an additional layer of security to their device data should use IPSec. In contrast to OpenVPN which creates a secure connection from a laptop or external device, IPSec establishes a secure connection between the application and the EMnify VPN gateway. Not only can customers login to their devices remotely from their application infrastructure, but also the device communication is encrypted on the path to the application. 

Note: While it is also possible to connect the application infrastructure to the mobile network using OpenVPN - this is not recommended. OpenVPN has a maximum bandwidth limitation of about 20 Mbps that all devices share and can impact device operation. Furthermore, with OpenVPN the routing is only done to one IP address, whereas IPSec is to the full application subnet.  

  1. Cloud Connect - Transit Gateway

IoT solution providers that have their application infrastructure on AWS can now also utilize the EMnify Cloud Connect feature. As EMnify's mobile network is already on AWS, customers can use a Transit Gateway resource attachment to connect to their devices without connecting to any public IP.  In fact, their application no longer needs a public IP. All device data is transported from the device to the application without ever crossing public internet. 

Summary

Remote access is a key ingredient for any successful IoT solution that is deployed remotely. From a security perspective it is advisable to use private IP addresses to enable remote access, instead of relying on public internet. A basic option offers remote access through OpenVPN which is free of charge for EMnify customers. For additional device and infrastructure securityIPSec or Cloud Connect also provide encryption of the data path. 

Find out more 

To learn more about how your cellular connectivity provider can help you secure your IoT solution, download  our new whitepaper. The EMnify Guide for Cellular IoT Security lists over 25 best practices in IoT security for your devices and applications.

 

The next blog post in this series will compare and contrast Cellular vs. Wifi vs. LoRA in terms of IoT device security. 

 

What security features does your cellular connectivity provider enable? 

Check out our Guide for Cellular IoT Security
to ensure a secure IoT solution for your business.
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