How to Build a Trusted IoT with Secure LoRa Networks?



The Internet of Things is growing quickly and changing our world for the better. The vast majority of these newly connected things don’t need the speed and bandwidth of tradition cellular networks but instead require energy and cost efficient LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks) technology such as LoRa. While LoRa networks promise improvements in many areas, they also require a new approach to shoring up security vulnerabilities. Security specifications from the LoRa Alliance along with best practices from Gemalto are helping IoT stakeholders build a trusted ecosystem based on secure LoRa networks.

By Loic Bonvarlet, Product Marketing Director IoT Services, Gemalto

The Internet of Things (IoT) is swiftly transforming our world with enhanced convenience, efficiency and safety offering countless opportunities to improve the way we work and live. IHS estimates that IoT connections will grow from 15 billion in 2015 to more than 30 billion things by 2020. The majority of these connected things do not require the bandwidth and speed of traditional cellular wireless networks. Instead, most IoT devices demand cost-efficient, low-power connectivity solutions that can support long-lived global deployments. This has given rise to the expansion of new LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks). In particular, LoRa networks, the most mature of the LPWAN technologies, are gaining traction in the IoT marketplace.

LoRa was designed to deliver wireless connectivity for battery-powered things that need to operate for a decade or more, things like tracking and tracing devices, smart meters and smart city applications. It offers extreme efficiency and provides long-range connectivity making it ideal for cost sensitive applications deployed in hard-to-reach locations. Unlike cellular 3GPP-based technologies, LoRa networks do not depend on SIM cards for authentication and security. Because security and trust are paramount to the success of the LoRa technology, the LoRa Alliance, a consortium of industry leaders working on LPWAN standards for IoT, has specified strong security architecture requirements to protect networks and the devices that operate on them.

LoRa Security Architecture

Gemalto, the global leader in digital security, worked closely with LoRa Alliance partners to develop security standards and architecture to safeguard LoRa networks and the IoT ecosystem. LoRaWAN security was designed to fit the general LoRaWAN criteria: low power consumption, low implementation complexity, low cost and high scalability. And because devices are deployed in the field for long periods of time (years), security must be future-proof.

The LoRaWAN security design adheres to state-of-the-art security principles: use of standard, well-vetted algorithms and end-to-end security. It safeguards the integrity of LoRa networks, devices and data via mutual authentication, integrity protection and confidentiality. This is achieved by providing three levels of remote credential provisioning for:

  1. LoRa devices
  2. LoRa networks
  3. Application servers that need access to device data

The Secure Handshake: Authenticating the Device and Network

Unlike network-specific SIM cards used for authentication in traditional cellular networks, LoRa devices are generic and can be operated on any LoRa network. The network routes a device ´join request´ to a secure ´join server´ which will verify the identity of the device and provides the needed session keys to the network and the application provider. The strong mutual authentication process between the IoT device and the LoRa network ensures the integrity of the LoRa IoT solution. It is imperative that this process is managed by an experienced and trusted partner.

A Mutual Authentication Deep Dive

The security mechanisms specified for LoRaWAN authentication rely on the well-tested and standardized AES1 cryptographic algorithms. These algorithms have been analyzed by the cryptographic community for many years, are NIST approved and widely adopted as a best security practice for constrained nodes and networks. LoRaWAN security uses the AES cryptographic primitive combined with several modes of operation: CMAC2 for integrity protection and CTR3 for encryption. Each LoRaWAN device is personalized with a unique 128 bit AES key (called AppKey) and a globally unique identifier (EUI-64-based DevEUI), both of which are used during the device authentication process. Allocation of EUI-64 identifiers require the assignor to have an Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI) from the IEEE Registration Authority. Similarly, LoRaWAN networks are identified by a 24-bit globally unique identifier assigned by the LoRa Alliance.

It is this secure authentication handshake between the device and the network that ensures a highly reliable join procedure. The remote, double key provisioning mechanism just described ensures that only authorized devices can connect to authorized networks.

Figure 1


Authenticating the Application

In addition to authentication between the device and network, another set of keys is provisioned using the same standards at application level for mutual authentication between the device and the application servers. This ensures complete data confidentiality for application servers or solution providers who are given specific keys to access the device data they are authorized to see. These strong encryption techniques ensure that data transferred over the network has not been altered, is coming from a legitimate source and is undecipherable to eavesdroppers.

Building a Trusted IoT with Secure LoRaWAN Technology

Low Power Wide Area networks, and LoRa in particular, hold huge potential for realizing the IoT vision of a world of smart ‘things’ in an increasingly interconnected planet. We just have to make sure that our next steps are made on solid ground – and that only comes through a deep understanding of the accompanying vulnerabilities, the tools and the processes that must be used to protect ourselves, our businesses and our communities. The LoRa Alliance security specification was designed to provide the sure footing needed and to enable trust in growing LoRa-based IoT deployments. Working with experienced and trusted security partners is essential to strengthening the LoRa security ecosystem and providing the confidence needed to unleash the power of the IoT.

The Gemalto Trusted Key Manager

LoRa end-to-end security strengthens the IoT ecosystem and allows all stakeholders to trust the integrity of devices, data and networks. The Gemalto Trusted Key Manager solution is ideal for LoRa deployments providing benefits for all ecosystem players:

IoT Device Makers

  • Removes the burden of security provisioning, saving time and money
  • Simplifies device production and distribution, allowing one unique key credential provisioning for all LoRa operators and global markets
  • Makes devices generic allowing dynamic secure activation anywhere, on a public or a private network
  • Simplifies device lifecycle management and automates the secure LoRa network join process

LoRa Network Operators

  • Simplifies device network onboarding and allows seamless LoRa network operator change, which is crucial when devices change ownership

IoT Application Servers and End Users

  • Ensures complete confidentiality and integrity of accessed data

Author bio: Loic Bonvarlet

Loic Bonvarlet joined Gemalto in 2011. He has 17 years of experience in Telecoms and wireless covering development, support, technical sales and marketing. In his current role, Loic is in charge of the IoT Services Product Marketing for Gemalto including the Sensorlogic Application Enablement platform and agent, module services, MIMs and associated services, security and the Secure Element for IoT. Previously, Loic managed the application engineering team for Gemalto M2M for the North American market, helping customer integrate Cinterion products in their M2M devices. Loic holds a Master of Engineering in Telecoms and networks from Grenoble Institute of Technology and works out of the Gemalto office in La Ciotat, France.

Caption for Figure One:

LoRaWAN security has been designed from the onset as an essential aspect of the wireless protocol leveraging mutual authentication and dedicated end-to-end encryption.


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