How To Close the IoT Security Gaps In Your ICS Networks

Shanice Jones

Today’s industrial control system (ICS) networks are much more advanced than networks of the past. In addition to IT systems, IoT devices like cameras, tablets, asset management sensors, and environmental monitoring devices are deployed to streamline workflows and enhance data-driven decisions. 

IoT devices make up 30% of all connected endpoints.

While these sensors, apps, and devices are vital to creating more agile operations, they develop several security gaps for ICS networks. Right now, IoT devices make up 30% of all connected endpoints. And as more industrial organizations continue to deploy hundreds of thousands of IoT assets, the number of security gaps will only increase. 

IoT devices on ICS networks

Supply chain vulnerabilities make many industrial companies primary targets for cybercriminals. Instead of attacking just one organization, sophisticated supply chain attacks allow cybercriminals to extend the scope of their attack to numerous organizations connected to the supply chain infrastructure. 

There are many applications for integrated IoT solutions across hundreds of industries. For example, in agriculture, IoT can monitor crops by collecting data related to moisture, temperature, and pest presence. In the aviation industry, IoT devices are commonly used for climate control in airplane cabins and for managing incoming airline traffic. 

Since there is such a wide range of use cases for IoT devices, the impact of IoT exploits is far-reaching.

You get the idea. Since there is such a wide range of use cases for IoT devices, the impact of IoT exploits is far-reaching. There were about 30 billion IoT devices connected worldwide by the end of last year, and that number continues to grow every day. 

IoT-based security risks and challenges

Connected devices provide organizations with unparalleled visibility into production and equipment performance. This allows manufacturers to identify issues and take action before breakdowns cause costly downtime with preventative maintenance and automatic parts ordering capabilities. 

Project management tools often come with critical features such as inventory tracking, file sharing, and digital payments. Industrial organizations can even use complex operations data gathered from sensors and other connected devices to improve safety measures, streamline inventory management, and adapt to changing customer demands. 

Unfortunately, the benefits of utilizing the IoT in industrial applications also come with significant risks

  • Lack of updates — Many IoT devices lack an automatic update protocol to scan and download patches when they're available. Additionally, with rapid advances in IoT device development, the firmware of your devices may go out of date much more quickly than anticipated.
  • Weak authentication protocols — There are nearly 3.3 billion email/password credentials available on the dark web for hackers to exploit. That means that securing your devices and apps with a simple user login won't cut it against today’s sophisticated attackers. 
  • Insecure communication — Without adequate encryption protocols on every IoT device, internal transmissions, and even device-to-app communications can leave your network vulnerable to a data breach. 

On top of all that, only 48% of companies can detect whether or not one of their IoT devices has become compromised. Combine that with the fact that attackers can exploit 89% of vulnerabilities without ever having physical access to an IoT device, and you can begin to put together exactly how dangerous the IoT can be. 

Only 48% of companies can detect whether or not one of their IoT devices has become compromised.

Closing the IoT security gaps in your ICS

There are many ways that organizations can safeguard their converged networks:

1. Provisioning

IoT devices require more secure authentication protocols to protect against unauthorized access. For ICS environments, a common best practice is to enforce device security at the individual sensor level at deployment. 

2. Configuration

The already complex configuration management databases (CMDB) landscape becomes even more complicated when incorporating IoT devices. Industrial organizations must determine the best tools and methods for continuously scanning and automatically updating their CMDB. Specifically, think about how you can automatically update your CMDB with data over multiple devices in one location. 

3. Monitoring

In addition to scanning and updating the CMDB, operators will need to find new ways to monitor their network at the device level. Identifying connected devices, monitoring their activity, and scanning for vulnerabilities are essential to maintaining a secure ecosystem. Closely monitor your IoT devices for any anomalies in their operations caused by maintenance issues. 

4. Maintenance

With such a wide array of IoT devices deployed on any given ICS network, IT must apply regular firmware updates and patches without disrupting business operations. The number of IoT-connected devices will impact whether or not your organization needs to reimagine device maintenance workflows. Take note that your teams may need to reimagine the workflows of your patch deployments if there are several IoT devices in your networks. 

5. Access management

As the number of IoT devices increases in your organization, IT must be incredibly diligent with identity management and access control. Implementing zero-trust policies in addition to robust password management procedures is crucial. Most ICS environments have traditionally had abysmal credential management, such as using repeat passwords or enabling former contractors or employees to access unnecessary devices, which increases the attack surface for hackers. 

The key to a secure IoT

The use of an openvpn-compatible router makes connecting IoT devices to your ICS network easy. Create a secure, private network to protect the sensitive traffic communicated by your IoT devices with OpenVPN’s Access Server — get started with two free connections today.

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