The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a crucial component of Industry 4.0. How does it work? Well, the IIoT makes better use of the data produced by industrial machines over time by using the capabilities of intelligent equipment and real-time analysis. In fact, intelligent robots can execute real-time data collection and analysis; something humans cannot process in the same amount of time. The second benefit of intelligent machines is that they communicate their results quickly, enabling companies to make better informed and timely decisions. While there are many positive applications for IIoT, one crucial concern is what IIoT security practices companies can implement to protect their data. Continue reading to learn more.

Ever-Expanding Technology

The IIoT is a fast developing industry. Like with any rapidly growing technology, growing pains include figuring out how to secure devices and systems against more sophisticated attacks. According to MarketsandMarkets, the IIoT market will grow from slightly more than 77 billion dollars in 2020 to 110.6 billion dollars in 2025 due to factors such as continued industrial usage and advancements in semiconductor technology.

What’s the suggested course of action? Businesses need to examine all possible connection choices when designing security architectures, not simply those already in use. Companies should prepare for the risk of security solutions failing when device use increases or changes.

In an ideal world, organizations would continuously assess their vulnerabilities rather than only doing so once every quarter. They would also seek real-time insight into their supply chains to reduce persistent cyber threats.

As the IIoT and operational technology (OT) evolve and grow, the Chief Information Security Officer’s (CISO) responsibilities develop and increase as well. The CISO is now in charge of mitigating risks presented by cloud-connected equipment, warehouse management systems, and intelligent devices spread over hundreds of workstations.

Managing evolving data security risks involves maintaining the safety of the following, including:

  • Transportation
  • Civic infrastructure
  • Industrial activities
  • Oil and gas installations
  • Public utilities

Due to the prevalence of unpatched embedded devices, CISOs need access to enhanced techniques for managing IIoT/OT risks fundamentally distinct from information technology (IT) risks. This difference must be understood by your Board of Directors (BoD) and executive staff. Costly production disruptions, safety failures leading to injury or death, and environmental harm resulting in liability are examples of potentially catastrophic events that have pushed IIoT and OT to the forefront of data security management.

Protect Devices in the Midst of the Constant Expansion of the Threat Surface

At the most fundamental level, these connected sources allow the capture, transmission, storage, and access of vast amounts of data. This valuable data can then be analyzed and interpreted to provide users with the insights they need to enhance operations. Additionally, this data enables new business models, but these new models must account for additional security issues. A well-thought-out and implemented cybersecurity policy and procedure may aid in providing both connectivity and security.

Cybercrime is increasing globally, and as more individuals work remotely, the danger of compromising corporate information technology and operational technology intensifies as well. Cybercriminals will exploit operational gaps between information technology and operations, as well as home-based workers or devices, to identify an organization’s weakest link. Additionally, IIoT devices may be vulnerable to covert malware infection.

According to AIG, ransomware has increased by 150 percent since 2018. Why? Well, it’s the result of data loss or destruction, stolen money, lost productivity, intellectual property theft, and personal or financial data theft, fraud, and reputational harm. Additionally, the number of companies impacted by ransomware rose by 102% between 2020 and 2021.

What About Edge Computing?

Massive amounts of data are processed at the edge before being sent to the cloud for analysis and use by various industrial applications. It is necessary that device drivers and firmware interact between these applications and the operating systems on which they operate.

Attackers may exploit and subvert devices by using these specific software classes. Each device and sensor in the IIoT presents a danger, but a significant percentage of IIoT devices are presently being used carelessly. The other risk is physical theft.

Consequently, it makes sense that data security is a significant and growing issue for many companies, even though some may opt to delay fully exploiting the IIoT’s potential benefits in exchange for deferring security pressure points. However, all industrial companies will unavoidably need to invest in enhancing real-time data exchange and analysis security. Naturally, this is the ultimate aim.

In fact, IIoT needs not only the protection of physical assets but also the protection of communication links. After all, IIoT networks may span hundreds of miles and include hundreds of thousands of data points.

However, authentication and authorization alone may not be adequate, especially in the absence of network encryption. When an unencrypted network client logs on, the credentials are sent in plain text, making them quickly sniffed out by anybody on the network. All that you need is a network monitor and access to the monitored network.

So, how can you protect your data in the IIoT?

Adopt an Optimized Cybersecurity Strategy

All companies need a layered security plan to safeguard networks regardless of the severity of external attacks and a cybersecurity policy that employees will follow in the case of an attack or hack.

IIoT and remote devices should be subject to cybersecurity regulations as well. Here are some vital questions to answer immediately:

  • How can you guarantee that remote updates are accurate?
  • How can you ensure that the industrial equipment has secure access to the satellite connection and the cloud?
  • How will you manage remote sensors, IIoT devices, and industrial devices?

Due to the network’s physical largesse, it is often easier to resolve many of these problems through remote industrial equipment. IIoT devices offer potential bottlenecks since they are often not managed securely and are exposed in various fields to perform their associated functions.

Additionally, your cybersecurity policy should define who is accountable for the organization’s asset preservation. For example, who is responsible for these tasks?

  • Keeping the firewall up to date.
  • Patching the program’s graphical user interface (GUI).
  • Approval of vendor requests to open ports on the OT network.

Who is Responsible for Maintaining Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity should be a top priority for the whole organization, including senior executives such as the CEO, CTO, and CFO. Typically, if senior management supports, communicates, and promotes the importance of cybersecurity, all company team members will adhere more closely to the mandated cybersecurity policy.

Further, your cybersecurity policy should contain an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The AUP section defines permitted and forbidden uses of information technology and operational technology networks. It should also include guidance on bringing devices from home or portable drives and the procedures and security precautions they must follow if the organization permits such devices. Additionally, the AUP should state whether they can use the Internet or email for personal reasons.

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we operate and do business. Remember to invest in cybersecurity training for workers and collaborate with suppliers to help protect their data security in the IIoT today and in the future. Countless employees continue to work from home. Your cybersecurity policy must address the security risks associated with workers working from home or connecting to the corporate network.

Implement a Zero Trust Framework

Invariably, data no longer flows hierarchically in the IIoT age. Edge computing enables smart sensors and controllers to communicate directly with the cloud, opening the IIoT to new risks. By modernizing your cybersecurity strategy with Zero Trust principles, your organization can ensure that it complies entirely with cloud-based IIoT/OT standards.

Where do you start? Scanning each IIoT device for security vulnerabilities may be challenging in environments with thousands of devices. A single vulnerable device may act as a weak link in the chain, launching a cyber attack or exposing vital corporate data for malicious purposes.

In addition, deploy Zero Trust architecture to secure devices based on the user role, the device being used, the kind of access needed, and the targeted IIoT resource. Zero Trust assumes that you can trust nothing inside or outside the corporate boundaries. Also, the network must verify all connections to its systems before granting access to resources.

Unquestionably, a Zero Trust policy facilitates the ability to implement granular policy-based access management for IIoT devices. Another significant benefit of this approach is the visibility of the gadget.

Utilize Essential IIoT Data Security Methods

Three crucial approaches for data security in the IIoT include:

  • Verify that all authorizations and accesses are valid and authorized.
  • Encrypt every data transmission channel.
  • Execute consistent updates to all software and firmware.

Also, require that all software and firmware on all devices be updated regularly. Keep in mind that an IIoT network is often composed of many embedded devices that have a long life. However, they are not updated as frequently as perhaps your computer operating systems. Still, it makes little difference how you deploy an update, whether locally or remotely, as long as you implement it.

Comply with National Standards

To ensure IIoT security in sectors such as distributed energy, the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has specified some particular cybersecurity characteristics that collaborating vendors should provide for IIoT solutions.

The NIST recommends the following:

  • Distributions deploy analysis and visualization capabilities and authentication and access control capabilities to ensure that only known and authorized systems and devices can exchange information.
  • Behavioral monitoring capabilities must learn what is “normal” and then report on anomalies. Organizations should incorporate a command register capability that maintains an audible log.

Additionally, industrial firms should comply with standards such as these listed below:

  • IEC 62443, Security for Industrial Automation and Control Systems
  • ISO 27001
  • ISO 27017
  • GDPR
  • The NIST Special Publication 800-82, “Guide to Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Security.”

These standards provide recommendations for minimizing control systems’ vulnerability to malicious attacks while fulfilling the performance, reliability, and safety criteria of industrial automation. Additionally, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides resources and best practices for industrial control system security.

Final Thought

Most industrial companies now recognize the tremendous efficiency gains and competitive advantages that can be achieved via IIoT adoption. Simultaneously, many are justifiably worried about the heightened data security risks. Industrial companies that prioritize cybersecurity policy updates, a Zero Trust architecture, and encryption can benefit in various ways such as downtime reduction, maintaining regulatory compliance, and increasing consumer trust.

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