How Does the Internet of Things Authentication Work?

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Idowu Odesanmi

Technical Writer

The term Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a group of things or objects that have sensors and software built into them in order to exchange data with each other over the internet and other networks. Nowadays, with IoT, you can connect almost any electronic object to the internet for seamless communication with other devices and humans.

The Things in the Internet of Things can be anything as simple as a light bulb you can switch on or dim with your smartphone application, or as complex as cabin climate control devices in airplanes. IoT has already become one of the foremost technologies in the past few decades.

Because IoT is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our daily lives, there is growing concern in regard to security and privacy. It's important to secure the myriad of connections between the devices in an IoT network and the services they communicate with. This is where IoT authentication plays its vital role. In this article, you'll learn how authentication in IoT works and how you can achieve device authentication in an IoT system.

Why You Need IoT

As you will see, IoT is important to individuals and businesses alike. The technology aims to help people live smarter and gain total control over many aspects of their daily lives. As a business, IoT enables you to have real-time insight into your processes and the performance of all your business domains and assets. With the automated and interconnected system that IoT provides, you can easily cut down waste, improve productivity, and preemptively develop strategies to address challenges before they even occur.

IoT is used by organizations across several industries to improve operational efficiency and derive more value from their decisions. In a typical IoT ecosystem, devices will have embedded sensors, processors, and other technologies that enable them to share and act on data acquired from their environment.

Although IoT, as an idea, has been in existence for a few decades, the technology was brought to life through the successes attained in the development and advancement of several technologies. Some of these are as follows:

  • Access to affordable and low-power electronic sensors
  • More efficient data transfer over a host of internet network protocols for cloud connection
  • Advances in machine learning (ML) and data analytics to gather insights faster from real-time sensor data
  • Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) that have made IoT devices more appealing to everyday users, with digital assistants, like Siri, Alexa, Google, and Cortana.

These technologies and many more facilitated the growth of IoT.

Use Cases of IoT

There are many aspects of life—private or public—where the Internet of Things can be used. Following are some of these use cases:

Location Tracking

Location tracking is one of the most popular use cases of IoT where smart sensors that are capable of monitoring GPS location, detecting surrounding devices, and transmitting data over a network are incorporated into devices in several industries.

Wearable technologies have made it easy to track the location of humans, pets, and mobile equipment. This application of IoT has aided parents in tracking their children, farmers in tracking the location of their herds, healthcare companies in tracking the real-time location of their patients with electronic implants or patient-assistance tools, and industries in tracking products throughout their lifecycle, from the assembly line to retailers' shelves.

Fleet Management

IoT sensors installed on vehicles within a fleet help to manage the complexities associated with fleet management. Smart sensors connect to IoT networks that then collect fleet data for performance analysis, pollution reduction, geolocation, fuel savings, and telemetry.

For example, key metrics such as total vehicle load, temperature of sensitive cargo, and fuel tank level can be monitored with IoT sensors and then transmitted for further processing. IoT enables the interconnectivity of vehicles, drivers, and fleet managers in real time, making it easier to improve operational efficiency.

In practice, a fleet manager can easily reroute trucks passing through a certain route with bad weather. Thanks to IoT, the trucks are equipped with sensors that can communicate over the internet.

Smart Farming

The increasing global population has called for constant innovations that assist humanity in meeting the increasing nutritional demands. IoT is an innovation that already holds great promise as a solution to improving the productivity of agriculture in the most cost-effective way.

Almost every stage of traditional agricultural processes can be improved and automated with IoT. Smart irrigation makes it easy to efficiently use water, as sensors in the soil send information about the status of the soil to the IoT network, triggering it to release water as needed. Greenhouse sensors can help you maintain optimum conditions around-the-clock by monitoring temperature, moisture level, and carbon dioxide concentration. You can also conveniently track livestock on your farm to manage the key data for their growth.

How IoT Authentication Works

IoT authentication is a vital part of the trust framework for IoT machines and devices to identify one another in their network with the goal of protecting data and controlling access. Strong authentication is required so that connected IoT devices and machines can trust each other and be protected against unidentified access. This means every device receiving information in the IoT network must be able to automatically verify the source of that information.

Why You Need IoT Authentication

Security and privacy are major concerns with IoT. The billions of data points generated by billions of IoT devices connected to the internet make the technology highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. For example, in 2016, Dyn, the largest domain name system infrastructure provider, was hit with a DDoS attack that brought down popular websites like Twitter, Netflix, and CNN. At the time, it was tagged as the largest DDoS attack the world has ever seen, and the attackers used poorly secured IoT devices to gain entry.

As a developer in your IoT-driven organization, you must consider IoT authentication as a key part of your security strategy. IoT poses a huge risk to your company's critical infrastructure, and bad actors tend to take advantage of the connectivity and entry points in the IoT network. For instance, unauthorized access can lead to data tampering which will possibly cause your team to make wrong decisions that could endanger machines and humans alike. Authentication helps you protect your devices and services from these unauthorized users and devices.

How You Can Best Implement IoT Authentication

On a generic level, IoT developers and administrators register each device and deploy each one with public key infrastructure (PKI) that is linked to public key certificates for device authentication. PKI helps the IoT network to establish the legitimacy of a device in a network.

Ultimately, your organization must choose the best authentication strategy that suits your IoT system, and you need to do this by considering the type of devices in the network, the location, and the nature of data to be transmitted or received.

There are several ways you can implement device authentication in an IoT system. However, every device should be able to verify the source of information in a system consisting of hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of devices that are sending large volumes of data in milliseconds. This is why it is essential to have a trusted platform that can automatically handle device identity verification. ZITADEL is one such platform:

Authentication with short lived tokens

ZITADEL lets devices authenticate themselves with a device key and then uses tokens to send data to a backend service. These backend services receive the short-lived keys and carry out validation independently. For more information about the different token types available and their benefits, check out this ZITADEL blog.

For example, assume you manage the IT infrastructure in a hydroelectric power generation dam that uses IoT water level sensors to automatically control a floodgate. The floodgate has to open or close at certain water levels as measured by the IoT sensor in real time. In such a high-risk operational situation, the floodgate controls must securely verify that the data being received is coming from your sensor. At first, the sensors will request an OAuth token from ZITADEL as a service user by first enrolling with the private-public key pair generated in Zitadel,and with this key, the sensor can create a JWT token that it can now exchange with an OAuth token. After this, the device will send the data with the requested tokens to the floodgate control system. Before the incoming water level sensor data is processed, the receiver automatically contacts ZITADEL to verify the device with the access token. If verification is successful, the floodgate control system processes the water level data and takes action accordingly.

As you can see, cryptographic keys, or tokens, form an essential part of IoT device authentication with ZITADEL. You must ensure that the generated keys for authentication are securely stored such that if they were compromised, your IoT system would still be secure.


Proper execution of IoT authentication is immensely beneficial to the security of your IoT system. Similarly, having a good understanding of how IoT authentication works is highly important for you as an IoT solutions developer, whether you're adopting an IoT authentication service or building a bespoke solution for your business.

In this article, you learned how the Internet of Things authentication works and how you can best execute it with ZITADEL.

ZITADEL is an open source identity management platform that provides you with a wide range of features like OpenID Connect, secure Machine-to-Machine communication, SAML 2.0, OAuth 2, FIDO2, OTP, and an unlimited audit trail. With ZITADEL, you can solve all your authentication and authorization needs. Check out our repo and give us a GitHub star. We appreciate the feedback.

This article was contributed by Idowu Odesanmi.

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