IIoT Cybersecurity – An Overlooked Exposure

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IoT networks are on a rise in the manufacturing sector, and it is also referred to as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). If you work in the manufacturing industry, chances are you are familiar with the term.

An intro to IIoT

IoT devices have been an easy target for malicious activity

There are many use cases of IoT in manufacturing. IoT networks support the production process, delivery and overall management, among other things, thus, adding benefits such as:

  • Optimizing processes
  • Reducing costs
  • Improving inventory management

 

Here are some relevant numbers about IoT and manufacturing to get you started.

According to reports from 2021:

  • IoT has enabled manufacturers to increase their average revenue by 28.5% 
  • Companies believe IoT and other digital technologies increase productivity by 12% at least
  • More than 50% of the new business systems will incorporate some IoT element by 2020

With All The Benefits IIoT brings, Threats Come Along

In the past few years, industrial facilities have started to employ better cybersecurity yet there is plenty of room for security improvements. It is also important to note that the majority of industrial cyber attacks are not as publicized compared with incidents that affect consumers and corporations which as a result, may blur awareness and keep a false sense of security in the industry.

Using Outdated and Vulnerable Software

Most industrial firms still use obsolete software in their industrial control systems (ICS), which means that those are no longer updated or supported by their developers. And those that use updated programs often fail to patch their operating systems (OSs), applications, and firmware. These overlooked details make it easy for malicious attackers to exploit existing vulnerabilities. And the people who upgrade those programs often fail to patch their operating systems (OSs), applications and firmware. 

Hardware Integrity & Staff Training

Using the best security software may not be enough, paying attention to hardware is part of the overall cybersecurity best practices. Hardware should not be left open or exposed to unauthorized access. When building an IIoT ecosystem, it is critical to keep an eye out for hardware misconfigurations, and have strong access controls in place.

Attackers can easily take over exposed hardware by modifying their settings. And because they are a part of the network, any changes made to one of them will automatically affect all connected devices. That means organizations need to employ strict access controls where access is granted only to those with the proper credentials.

In this post, we are not going to go into the details of staff training and how raising cybersecurity awareness in your team is essential but we highly encourage you to read more on this subject and find ways to build this culture in your team.

Data Encryption

Meeting strict encryption standards is another challenge IIoT users face. Most Industrial Control Systems (ICS) contain massive amounts of data, making encryption critical. Each system interaction should undergo approved cryptography protocols before permission is granted.

The challenge lies in identifying which processes or connection data need to be encrypted. The concern of having decryption slowing down operations is one reason some facilities skip it but ideally, all external data exchanges should be encrypted. That way, even if it gets stolen, hackers would not be able to read it.

Risk Assessment Modules

The more devices connected to a network, the larger the potential attack surface is, which means, the sum of all vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit is bigger. 

Having a risk assessment module in place, which can efficiently identify all physical and digital assets that require cyber protection, is a good way to address this issue. Once identified, risks can be mitigated, beginning with the most critical assets.

To elaborate an accurate risk profiling, it’s recommendable to answer questions like:

  • What could go wrong?
  • How likely is it for an incident to occur?
  • What are the potential consequences of each risk?

Part of assessing risks is asking one’s IT security team to gather data on possible threats and come up with the proper cybersecurity measures. Considering that oftentimes IT specialists end up overlooking OT peculiarities, it is a good idea to team up with an OT specialist, to support your cybersecurity program or help you execute a cybersecurity readiness check.

Here’s an easy-to-understand example found in our cybersecurity guide for plant & operations managers.

“For this segment, let’s look at an example:

Factory X is a midsized industrial facility using some IT-connected smart devices and legacy machinery.

Management made a major decision to transform the facility into a smart factory to improve productivity. They began by bringing in new machinery that connects to the OT network and implemented an industrial control system to oversee production.

Many of the new devices brought in are IoT devices that connect to the internet. The management team wants to keep the OT network and IT network separate, fearing the production work may overload the IT network that connects to the business side of the facility.

The company that owns the factory has an active industrial network, IT network, and enterprise network. The facility contains legacy systems that they want to upgrade but only want to connect them to the OT network.”

How can factory X bring in systems and equipment that are typically connected to the IT network without integrating the business networks with the OT network? This can be done through OT/ICS network segmentation.

OT/ICS network segmentation refers to isolating certain systems from others, usually separating the OT network from the enterprise network.

Stand-alone OT systems are traditional systems not connected to IT systems, such as ICS, SCADA systems, Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). The IT and enterprise networks tend to have a greater need for internet connectivity.

This is becoming less prevalent as IoT and IIoT evolve and operational technologies frequently implement IT systems. However, there are still benefits to having a segmented network.

Network Segmentation

In fact, segmentation is usually considered the backbone of any OT/ICS network. Segmentation ensures that in the event of a breach, attackers will be restricted to one area of the network rather than access to the entire company network.

It should be noted that segmenting the OT network from the IT network is a very large and complicated task, so take this into account if your facility is considering segmenting the OT and IT networks. Segmentation is accomplished by separating the industrial network into zones.

 

You might also want to read about IT/OT convergence and where to look at to keep your cybersecurity in check.

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