Securing the Industrial Internet of Things

1 May 2019 Information Security, Infrastructure, Industrial (Industry)

The very benefits that makes the IIoT so compelling, makes it equally capable of damaging infrastructure operations and processes through bad actors.

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700s, the manufacturing industry has undergone several revolutions. However, in today’s age of skyrocketing technological advancements, times are changing at a far more rapid pace, as we see the automation era being replaced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The 4IR has been driven by several factors. Digital transformation, evolving business models, increased pressures around costs and time to market, have all ushered in this new age and given rise to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which facilitates unprecedented levels of real-time connectivity, visibility and control across operations.

However, alongside the plethora of benefits, is one major downfall: a dramatic increase in cybersecurity risks. Although the IIoT aims to streamline manufacturing processes, it also endangers Industrial Control Systems (ICS) as they are vulnerable to exploits that can be found freely on the Internet. The vulnerabilities range from basic issues like systems without passwords or with hard-coded passwords to configuration issues, software bugs and hardware vulnerabilities.

“Once a threat actor has the ability to run software on a host that has access to a controller, the chances of a successful attack are extremely high,” says Andre Froneman, business unit manager and industrial cybersecurity adviser at Axiz.

According to Froneman, traditional security is not enough to protect against proliferating cyber threats to both operational technology (OT) and IT systems. ICS on OT networks have totally varying operational requirements that affect the entity’s ability to adapt and respond to evolving cyber security threats.

“This opens up the organisation to new avenues for attackers. ICS cyber security strategies must be designed with asset and operational requirements in mind to protect critical processes without negatively impacting efficiency, productivity and safety. In addition, effective ICS cyber security requires a combination of tools, processes and skills.”

He says to remember that when ICS systems were designed it was with manageability and control with maximum reliability in mind. “Essentially, they were never designed to be attached to the Internet. In this way, these systems now face all the expected challenges associated with vulnerabilities and exploits, but with the additional burden of these systems operating in dispersed geographical environments that can be physically difficult to reach or that can never be taken offline.”

Moreover, all of the equipment that runs these systems is monitored and controlled by industrial controllers (PLC, RTU, and HMI) as well as sensors. They are connected to management systems such as Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (scada) systems

He says consider critical infrastructure facilities, such as electricity, oil, gas, water, waste, and suchlike, that are key to keeping nations up and running. “One can’t simply switch off these facilities, and it doesn’t take much imagination to think about what could happen if control of these systems fell into the wrong hands. Take for example, the air traffic control at an airport such as OR Tambo, the ramifications should hackers be able to control this, defy thought.”

The wide adoption of these systems is due to their benefits – they are dependable, as well as rugged and stable, allowing critical infrastructure facilities to use them for decades at a time. However, the benefits that make them so compelling, make them equally capable of damaging infrastructure operations and processes through malfeasance.

Froneman explains that these systems commonly employ propriety operating systems that have not been subjected to any form of security hardening. In addition, default passwords and baseline configurations make it child’s play for attackers to compromise them. Similarly, the software they use can’t be updated or patched often, due to the limitations of their geographical locations, as well as worries about downtime. The software run is more often than not, legacy software that lacks the appropriate user and system authentication, data authenticity verification, as well as data integrity checking features. Legacy SCADA controllers are also unable to encrypt communications and this can enable cyber crooks to employ sniffing software to find out username and passwords.

These and other flaws give hackers the ability to inject commands and manipulate parameters to modify, delete, or copy information on controlled access systems. “Should a threat actor alter commands sent to the controllers, changing the controller logical sequence or alter the sensors readings, attackers can change the industrial processes themselves,” he explains.

So what can industrial organisations do to protect their data and systems? Froneman says ICS security needs to be built in layers to prevent attacks from both external and internal sources. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to securing ICS/ SCADA infrastructures. A segmented, multi-layer defence-in-depth strategy must be designed for their specific and highly tailored needs.”

He says that a good number of attacks suffered by ICS networks happened via IT attack vectors, including spear phishing via email and ransomware on endpoints. “Using a solution such as Check Point Threat Prevention that has features including sandboxing, as well as network and endpoint security, can prevent and eliminate this type of attack before it hits the ICS system. These technologies are also effective when used in OT networks. SCADA vendors release vulnerability advisories for their ICS devices on an ongoing basis, although OT environments are not quick to install and upgrade their machines, leaving systems unpatched, and creating a vulnerability window. Having this type of solution on the OT network, closes that window.”

Froneman says another way of securing ICS systems is by segmenting IT and OT, and applying the principle of least privilege access. “Boundary protection has been cited as number one for several years in a row by US ICS-CERT, and this type of protection should ensure the availability, integrity and confidentiality of this data, and maintain physical network separation between the real time components of the industrial network.”

“To prevent tampering with legacy data that is communicated in open text without encryption on these systems, secure site-to-site VPN tunnels between boundaries interconnects should be created. In addition, security gateways should be installed at all interconnects, guaranteeing that only relevant and legitimate traffic is able to enter or leave the network. All communication, protocols, methods, queries and responses and payloads should be validated using a firewall, application control, IPS and antivirus.”

Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Responsible AI boosts software security
Information Security
While the prevalence of high-severity security flaws in applications has dropped slightly in recent years, the risks posed by software vulnerabilities remain high, and remediating these vulnerabilities could hinder new application development.

AI and ransomware: cutting through the hype
AI & Data Analytics Information Security
It might be the great paradox of 2024: artificial intelligence (AI). Everyone is bored of hearing it, but we cannot stop talking about it. It is not going away, so we had better get used to it.

NEC XON shares lessons learned from ransomware attacks
NEC XON Editor's Choice Information Security
NEC XON has handled many ransomware attacks. We've distilled key insights and listed them in this article to better equip companies and individuals for scenarios like this, which many will say are an inevitable reality in today’s environment.

iOCO collaboration protection secures Office 365
Information Security Infrastructure
The cloud, in general, and Office 365, in particular, have played a significant role in enabling collaboration, but it has also created a security headache as organisations store valuable information on the platform.

Smart mining operations management
Mining (Industry) Infrastructure IoT & Automation
In his presentation at the recent MESA Africa conference, Neels van der Walt, Business Development Manager at Iritron, revealed the all-encompassing concept of SMOM (Smart Mining Operations Management) and why it is inextricably linked to the future of worldwide mining operations.

Cybercriminals embracing AI
Information Security Security Services & Risk Management
Organisations of all sizes are exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI, in particular, can benefit their businesses. While they are still figuring out how best to use AI, cybercriminals have fully embraced it.

Do you need a virtual CIO?
Editor's Choice News & Events Infrastructure
If you have a CIO, rest assured that your competitors have noticed and will come knocking on their door sooner or later. A Virtual CIO service is a compelling solution for businesses navigating tough economic conditions.

The TCO of cloud surveillance
DeepAlert Verifier Technews Publishing Surveillance Infrastructure
SMART Security Solutions asked two successful, home-grown cloud surveillance operators for their take on the benefits of cloud surveillance to the local market. Does cloud do everything, or are there areas where onsite solutions are preferable?

A strong cybersecurity foundation
Milestone Systems Information Security
The data collected by cameras, connected sensors, and video management software can make a VMS an attractive target for malicious actors; therefore, being aware of the risks of an insecure video surveillance system and how to mitigate these are critical skills.

Surveillance and cybersecurity
Cathexis Technologies Information Security
Whether your business runs a security system with a handful of cameras or it is an enterprise company with thousands of cameras monitoring sites across a multinational organisation, you must pay attention to cybersecurity.