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IoT Remote Access: Accessing IOT devices for SSH

SSH makes accessing remote IoT devices securely possible, but keeping client-server connections private requires careful management and proper configuration.

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IoT devices offer automation, efficiency, and convenience, but leaving them unmonitored can open up avenues of vulnerability. In business settings, IoT remote access is key to maintaining and monitoring IoT activity in real time to ensure safe use. Yet, common shortcuts and risky backend methods can lead cybercriminals straight into a bustling network.

With SSH, however, IoT remote access to devices is safe, easy to deploy, and dependable. This guide will explain how to harness the SSH protocol to securely supervise IoT networks, keeping data confidential and people safe.

What is IoT Remote Monitoring?

IoT remote monitoring involves the surveillance of smart technology as they operate in tandem with each other. Typically, an administrator uses a software program or application to view the status of each IoT device from a centralized digital control center. From here, administrators can change machine settings, address malfunctions, and even log activity for auditing. 

For enterprises heavily reliant on hundreds of IoT devices to meet daily business objectives, remote monitoring helps save time and money that would otherwise be spent on in-person visits, extended downtime, and troubleshooting costs.

Why is IoT Remote Access Important?

Implementations for IoT technology are scalable and virtually endless. IoT helps us manage utility usage in office buildings, automate production lines, update supply chain inventories, drive transportation vehicles, and more. However, the fact that IoT is extensively used worldwide is both an advantage and disadvantage. While more devices mean enhanced interoperability, they also mean a wider variety of access points for hackers to infiltrate.

A lack of IoT remote access grants more time for cybercriminals to find and exploit sensitive data, disrupt operational technology (OT), and even inflict physical harm. For example, sensors and timers that shift traffic lights can be interrupted, potentially causing automobile accidents. Or a temperature-controlled drum could be discretely turned off, spoiling a vital ingredient in a food product. IoT remote access to IoT devices allows administrators to address unauthorized activity before any damage is done.

What Are the Benefits of IoT Remote Access to IoT Devices?

Besides preventing and resolving breaches before they can inflict harm, remote access to IoT devices builds on the capabilities that come with wireless interconnectivity. For instance, from a bird’s-eye-view perspective, administrators can see where energy is being consumed and set function timers on specific devices to preserve power and extend the life of equipment and machinery. Additionally, regular firmware updates can be set to mitigate latency and operational issues arising from outdated software and application versions.

Many IoT remote access management systems for IoT infrastructures employ predictive and real-time analytical data for informed decision-making — this can alleviate issues related to internal organization, labor allocation, and cybersecurity for enhanced productivity and protection. By taking a proactive approach, businesses can eliminate costs and enjoy better time management.

Access IoT Devices with SSH

The Secure Shell (SSH) protocol is widely used for remotely accessing IoT devices because of its emphasis on encryption throughout the server connection process. From user-generated credentials and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to public key infrastructures (PKI) and even zero-trust keyless solutions, SSH provides layers of added security to support legitimate users while keeping malicious actors at bay.

By default, the SSH protocol is installed in recent iterations of UNIX, Mac, and Windows systems. Command-line configurations are needed to implement specific authentication measures on a device for remote access management. For further instructions on successfully enabling SSH-driven IoT remote access management on any IoT device, see our OpenSSH client configuration guide.

Since IoT devices are guarded by firewalls and publicly shielded IP addresses, reaching them remotely can be quite challenging. As a result, some users cut corners to gain remote access to their IoT devices, but in the process, they’re leaving doors open for lurking cybercriminals to sneak in undetected.

Risky IoT Remote Access Practices to Avoid

A common method for quickly accessing IoT devices remotely with SSH is to open up SSH and HTTP/HTTPS ports in a gateway router or firewall. Usually, a Dynamic DNS (DDNS) solution is deployed to keep track of the gateway router’s IP address as it’s being accessed remotely. Users who partake in this method often assume that with SSH protocols running in the background, their activity is sufficiently armored.

While SSH runs on extensive encryption processes, it can’t protect against attacks when a hacker has already infiltrated a private server through an exposed port. Moreover, ongoing SSH protocol will help disguise a hacker as they acquire sensitive data and manipulate administrative controls, making it harder for an administrator to find and address a breach in time.

Another practice that experts discourage is enabling root-level access in remote applications. Root-level access refers to accounts in Linux and Unix systems that have the highest level of authority within a server; thus, they have total system access. Ideally, one root-level password should be used per server, and a root access account should only be utilized locally for IT maintenance and troubleshooting. Otherwise, extending these privileged credentials to other servers makes it easier for hackers to gain unrestricted access to an entire enterprise once they enter through an exposed port.

Best Practices for SSH-Driven IoT Remote Access

SSH tunneling is the primary method for users to securely communicate with remote servers, networks, and devices through established firewalls and gateway routers using an assigned, protected port. It allows internet traffic to travel between local and remote devices. There are three types of SSH tunneling: local port forwarding, remote port forwarding, and dynamic port forwarding.

Local port forwarding connects local users to remote devices and servers on a different network, whereas remote port forwarding works the opposite way, granting remote networks access to a local server or device. Dynamic port forwarding involves both types of tunneling working simultaneously for inbound and outbound traffic. What makes this process of bypassing firewalls more secure is that the information being exchanged, as well as the connection between the local and remote servers, are encoded with SSH keys. See our SSH port forwarding guide for a more detailed explanation of how SSH tunneling works.

It’s crucial that all keys used in these interactions are adequately managed, disposed of, and regenerated as needed. Leaving keys unsupervised is like publishing a list of login credentials online for everyone to see — it leaves a trail of crumbs for hackers to use to breach a vulnerable target without being flagged as an unauthorized user.

Keeping IoT Remote Access Secure with SSH

While the SSH protocol offers secure channels to access IoT devices remotely, administrators must adopt a best-in-class management solution to surveillance, flag, and fix issues that can disrupt operations. SSH offers a suite of privileged access management (PrivX) solutions founded on zero trust and just-in-time architecture for one-time certificate use, preventing credential leaks that hackers exploit.

The PrivX OT Edition offers a centralized, user-friendly platform to manage both IT and OT environments, with scalable applications compatible with legacy and novel machinery. From financial data to technical troubleshooting, PrivX OT grants administrators complete control and maneuverability over their entire operational, data-driven framework without the need to perform complex configurations. Reach out to us today to learn how SSH continues to keep IoT remote access safe in the face of progressive cybercriminal tactics.