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.
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.
Industrial 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Using Outdated and Vulnerable Software
Most industrial firms still use obsolete software (i.e., those are no longer updated or supported by their developers) in their industrial control systems (ICS).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.
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 cyberattackers.