IoT devices have slowly made their way into the manufacturing and transportation industries, giving birth to what we now know as “industrial IoT or IIoT.” The concept has started to address the technical challenges encountered in the relevant spaces, helping organizations to improve processes and reduce costs.
However, while IIoT has several benefits, it also comes with tons of security issues. As an organization’s cloud network widens, and the number of connected devices per user increases, the likelihood that it could become a data breach victim also rises.
In this article we will focus on some of the most relevant IIoT cybersecurity challenges and discuss the ways these risks can be avoided. However, before of dive into this, let’s first talk about the advantages of industrial IoT more in detail.
Industrial IoT Benefits
IIoT use has become widespread due to its undeniable contributions to the industrial sector that include:
- Optimizing processes: A digitally connected factory can carry out procedures with ease because facility engineers can automate commands that streamline operations.
- Reducing costs: IIoT devices equipped with sensors can monitor machines in real-time. Should these deviate from predefined parameters, the devices can alert operators to take the necessary action. That ensures the optimal functionality of machines and reduces the need for repairs and possible downtime.
- Improving inventory management: IIoT provides industries with inventory tracking and monitoring systems. These systems can quickly produce reports on item availability and works in progress, and predict pretty accurate output delivery.
But, while IIoT has several benefits, it also comes with tons of security challenges. As an organization’s cloud network widens, and its number of connected devices per user increases, the likelihood that it could become a data breach victim also rises.
In the past few years, industrial facilities have started to employ better cybersecurity as time passes. Most attacks are, however, not as publicized compared with incidents that affect consumers and corporations. Nevertheless, they did increase awareness and made stakeholders realize how vital IIoT security is.
IIoT Cybersecurity Challenges
Here are some of the challenges that IIoT users can face.
Using Outdated and Vulnerable Software
Most industrial firms still use obsolete software (i.e., those are no longer updated or supported by their developers) in their industrial control systems (ICS). And those that use updated programs often fail to patch their operating systems (OSs), applications, and firmware. These practices make it easy for attackers to exploit existing vulnerabilities.
Case in point: Early this year, the LockerGoga ransomware caused major manufacturing and industrial firms to shut down and revert to manual operations. Installing patches as soon as these were made available could prevent such an incident.
Lack of Risk Assessment Modules
A network with hundreds of connected devices has a larger potential attack surface (i.e., the sum of all vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit). Coming up with a risk assessment module, which efficiently identifies all physical and digital assets that require protection, can address this issue. Once identified, users can then start mitigating risks by providing security, beginning with the most critical assets.
In such risk profiling, users need to answer questions like:
- What could go wrong?
- How likely can an incident 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.
Poor Hardware Integrity
However, it is not enough to use the best security software. Hardware should not be left open or exposed to unauthorized access, too. So when building an IIoT ecosystem, it is critical to keep an eye out for hardware misconfigurations.
Attackers can easily take control of exposed hardware by modifying their settings. And any changes made to them automatically affects all connected devices. That means organizations need to employ strict access controls where access is granted only to those with the proper credentials.
Weak Data Encryption
Another challenge IIoT users face has to do with meeting strict encryption standards. Most ICS contain massive amounts of data, making encryption critical. Each system interaction should undergo approved cryptography protocols before it’s granted permission.
The issue lies in identifying in which processes or connection types data needs to be encrypted. Some are concerned that decryption slows down operations and so opt to skip it. Ideally, all external data exchanges should be encrypted. That way, even if it gets stolen, hackers would not be able to read it.
IIoT Cybersecurity: the Future
Amid the ongoing industrial revolution, more and more companies will employ IIoT. That is why industry experts predict the 2030 IIoT market size will reach US$14.2 trillion by 2030. The following sectors will be responsible for the push, but they will also be some of the most vulnerable to cyber attacks:
Hospitals and healthcare facilities and providers have increasingly employed remote health monitoring due to lockdowns and community quarantines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. And given their effectiveness in reducing lines in hospitals, the systems are not likely to go away. The healthcare industry also uses IIoT devices for equipment maintenance. But their use will require protection against cyber attackers since medical records contain a lot of personally identifiable information (PII). Hackers have been known to steal patient data and sell it on the Dark Web.
IIoT devices let aircraft manufacturers rebuild components like wings and change aircraft aerodynamics. They also use sensors to measure wear and tear on planes in real-time, allowing them to perform maintenance more efficiently.
But like any other technology, advanced aviation tools are prone to hacking. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proved that in 2020, when they successfully compromised a plane’s system without insider help or being onboard it. That said, IIoT devices specifically designed for the industry will need protection against cyberthreats.
Oil and Gas
In the oil and gas industry, IIoT allows organizations to better manage planning, scheduling, and procurement processes. It also helps them analyze their entire supply chain process despite using data gathered from many different endpoints to gain valuable insights.
IIoT devices designed for the oil and gas sector require protection from cyber attacks as well. You’ve probably heard of supply chain attacks allowing perpetrators access to a target network. Such attacks can affect the industry as much as they can any other.
Mining companies consider IIoT as a means to monitor their heavy machines, vehicles, equipment, and devices throughout sites. This connectivity enables advanced data collection, exchange, and analysis for maintenance and safety purposes. But these devices can get compromised like any other machine. Such an occurrence can put miners at great risk of physical harm, which is why applications need protection against hacking.
Given the increased IIoT traction, we are also bound to see the rise of more threats targeting them. All the cyberthreats that affect Internet of Things (IoT) devices could potentially affect IIoT systems. And since they are used for wider applications (e.g., providing electricity, moving passengers, etc.), they require greater protection.
Now, we’ve seen both sides of the coin. And what we realized is: To effectively harness the power of IIoT, stakeholders must improve their industrial cybersecurity posture. Securing IIoT infrastructures calls for a much broader security strategy since they are dealing with critical systems that are now becoming desirable targets for cyber attackers.