Docker: The One Thing You Never Knew You Needed for Your IoT Devices

5min read
Updated: Dec 09, 2020

By David Bisson

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to grow over the next few years. In its “State of the IoT & Short-term outlook” update for 2018, IoT Analytics relayed that the number of IoT devices was expected to grow to 22 billion by 2025. That number included all active connections and did not consider purchased devices that were no longer active.

The IoT market insights provider said that a sizable amount of this growth would come from IoT devices connected to low-power wide area networks (LPWAN). (This type of wireless telecommunication area allows organizations to create a wireless sensor network without investing in gateway technology.) Overall, IoT Analytics forecasted that more than 2 billion devices would connect through a LPWAN by 2025. These connections would help push the global market for the Internet of Things to $1.567 billion by that same year.

The Challenges that Accompany IoT Devices

Clearly, more and more organizations are using IoT devices to address their evolving business needs. But connecting more IoT devices to the network poses several challenges. Four in particular stand out:

  • Limited Resources: semiEngineering made the important point that most IoT edge devices don’t have sophisticated resources. These products commonly have reduced CPU processing power as well as little RAM and flash memory, limitations which make it difficult to run security solutions on these devices. In the absence of security solutions, malicious actors could compromise an IoT device and abuse that access to move laterally throughout the organization’s network.
  • Geographic Distribution: IoT devices are not neatly distributed in a network. Indeed, many organizations deploy these products in different parts of their environments, thereby complicating the task of rolling out software to their devices. According to Dell Technologies, organizations also need to have a strategy to handle the IoT data that could be coming in from geographically distributed sources around the world.
  • Connectivity Issues: Organizations need to have the necessary network bandwidth to get the most out of their IoT devices. The issue is that Internet connections are sometimes unreliable, per TheServerSide, thus posing a challenge to IoT development. In response, organizations need to follow the recommendations of ITProPortal and make sure that the most important data comes through while filtering out the less essential information.
  • Different Needs: Organizations deploy IoT devices into various parts of their infrastructure including their industrial and medical environments. All of these environments have different needs to which organizations must appropriately configure these devices. This task can become difficult in the likely event that organizations are dealing with different OSes and types of devices.

So, how are organizations supposed to address these obstacles?

Docker to the Rescue

Organizations can compensate for the challenges discussed above using Docker. Per its website, Docker helps to accelerate organizations workflows by drawing upon the advantages of containers. These technologies are unlike virtualized hardware in that they share operating systems, which means they don’t need the vast majority of components that come in a virtual machine (VM).

ZDNet explains that organizations can also use containers for Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) by letting their developers integrate code quickly and efficiently into a shared repository. Developers can accomplish this by packaging isolated bits of code into their own self-sufficient containers. Such modularity allows developers to break up larger projects—including those involving the cloud—into smaller pieces, making app delivery a more continuous and manageable process.

What organizations don’t realize is that they can also use these characteristics of Docker to address the IoT challenges discussed above. As noted by Container Journal, containers don’t require much computing power, so admins can simply download an image for their IoT device without having to go through too much configuration processing. Organizations can also use Docker to spin up image registries from multiple locations to serve the network as a whole and to download only parts of an image that has changed as part of a container update. Finally, containers can run largely independent of OS versions and other software variables as long as they have a Linux distribution and container runtime.

Docker Has Its Own Challenges

The important thing to keep in mind is that Docker containers can suffer from their own security challenges. StackRox explains that containers’ base images could come from an insecure source, for example, or they could contain vulnerabilities that enable a malicious actor to move throughout the container environment. Containers aren’t isolated from one another by default, after all, so an attacker could use a single compromised container to target other parts of the container environment. Additionally, containers don’t generally remain live for an extended period of time. These short life spans make it difficult for organizations to maintain complete visibility over their container environments.

Acknowledging these potential security threats, organizations need to make sure that their Docker containers are safe against digital threats for the sake of securing their container environments and IoT devices. Organizations can learn about how to secure their containers against these threats and to optimize their IoT devices’ functionality by visiting Docker’s website.

About the Author: David Bisson is an information security writer and security junkie. He’s a contributing editor to IBM’s Security Intelligence, Tripwire’s The State of Security Blog, and a contributing writer to Bora. He also regularly produces written content for Zix and a number of other companies in the digital security space.

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