Industrial IoT security:
top concerns & actionable strategies

Industrial IoT security: top concerns & actionable strategies

December 12, 2023

Security issues identified in the IIoT architecture

Industrial IoT architecture refers to the collection of all IoT elements in smart factories. The IoT architecture can vary from enterprise to enterprise. Still, it always includes devices with sensors and actuators, network elements, databases, analytics tools, and business applications. Each component poses particular security risks to the whole manufacturing environment.

IoT layerLayer operationsSecurity risksApplication layerGraphical data representation via operational technology
and enterprise applications (ERP, CRM)Broken authentication, credential stuffing,
and other privacy-related attacksData flowData & operations layerData storage and processing, operations management,
and advanced data analyticsUnauthorized access, DoS attacks, malicious insidersData flowNetwork layerWired/wireless data transmission between devices,
data storage and analytics, and user apps
(Ethernet, LAN/WLAN, 4G, 5G, Bluetooth)Network-related attacks, e.g., DDoS or man-in-the-middleData flowPerception layerData gathering and device control
with sensors and actuatorsNode capture, eavesdropping, ransomware,
replay attacks, and timing attacks

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Top industrial IoT security concerns

The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, has irreversibly transformed factories’ operations environments due to manufacturing digitization. Manufacturers are increasingly integrating advanced technologies such as IoT, cloud computing, data analytics, and machine learning. However, the convergence of operation technology (OT) on the manufacturing floor with IoT technologies and other advanced solutions unveils new soft spots for cyber attacks.

According to recent research, when a cyberattack occurred earlier in 2022, only 21% of respondents would report that both the OT and IT systems were impacted, compared to 32% of respondents stating the same in 2023.

Scheme title: IoT environments impacted by cyberattacks
Data source: fortinet.com — 2023 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report

Poor device & endpoint visibility

Enterprises can overlook inventory records during the fast ramp-up of their IoT infrastructure, lose track of devices deployed decades ago, or simply lack the tools or resources to monitor the vast array of connected assets. This leads to the lack of real-time visibility over connected devices, sensors, endpoints, and their configurations, which can result in critical data interception, supply chain delays, compromised product quality, or even risks to workers’ safety.

IIoT attacks and their effects

Various industrial IoT attacks aim to breach the security of different elements of the IoT ecosystem, like network communications, IoT and OT software and applications, and physical devices. The consequences of a single cyberattack differ depending on the target of the attack, but the most common and dangerous one is the exposure of sensitive data. Here are the most widespread IIoT attacks and their effects on factories.

Attacks

Effects

Software

Attacks

Effects

Malware, ransomware, spyware (worms, viruses, and Trojan horses) Blended threats Bot/botnets Rootkits Forced deadlock Exploitation of trusted identifiers

Fuzzing Unauthorized access Code injection Brute-force attacks Phishing attacks SQL injections Cross-site scripting (XSS)

Exposure of sensitive data Data disruption Software inoperability Blocked access to files on computers Installed stalking software Denial of service

Hardware & firmware

Attacks

Effects

Physical tampering Reverse engineering RF jamming Denial-of-sleep attack

Side-channel attacks Counterfeit hardware Configuration manipulation

Access to sensitive information Data flow control Resource destruction Server shutdown

Communications

Attacks

Effects

Eavesdropping (sniffing and spoofing attacks) Man-in-the-middle attacks Session hijacking DoS/DDoS attacks DNS tunneling

Port scanning Protocol manipulation attacks Jamming Traffic analysis Sinkhole attacks URL poisoning

Network flooding and congestion Data stealing Unauthorized access to databases System crashes Malware tunneling Routing loops

Top 12 guidelines for IIoT security

1 Have an up-to-date asset inventory

A valid inventory of all enterprise network and IoT assets will give stakeholders a clear picture of what exactly must be protected. After an inventory audit, a business impact analysis is recommended to decide the criticality of assets and define what cyber security measures and controls should be implemented.

2 Apply network segmentation & micro-segmentation

Dividing a network into segments or even micro-segments prevents a cyber attack from spreading to critical industrial control systems (ICS) like human-machine interfaces (HMIs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Enterprises can segment their network with usual firewalls, subnets, and VLANs.

3 Establish an Industrial Demilitarized Zone (IDMZ)

Establishing an Industrial Demilitarized Zone implies creating an intermediate layer between IT and OT ecosystems. For example, the data will land on a broker server in the IDMZ instead of going directly from the enterprise to the industrial side. Similarly to usual network segmentation, the IDMZ will reduce the attack surface and protect one operational area if the other one has been infected with malware.

4 Ensure hardware-level security

Manufacturers can ensure IoT ecosystem security and the Root of Trust on the hardware level by utilizing Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs). TPMs are microcontrollers installed on IIoT devices and used to store credentials for device authentication in the network. The credentials include passwords, encryption keys, or public certificates.

5 Use access management mechanisms

Access control mechanisms help identify which user or device can access specific resources. You can assign unique identities to all IIoT devices that will have to establish trust when connecting with other devices or data storage. Access controls can be based on specific organizational roles, attributes, and policies. Apply the principle of least privilege so that users can access only specific data, devices, or resources.

6 Adopt blockchain for IoT security

Blockchain technology can encrypt and secure IoT data flows. The decentralized nature of blockchain makes it practically impossible for cyber criminals to approach data through a single point of access. With blockchain technology, each transaction between IoT devices and applications is recorded and added to a digital ledger, and data chain that cannot be changed.

7 Implement two-factor authentication

Manufacturers can secure access to IoT devices, applications, and SCADA systems by implementing multi-factor authentication. Apart from a usual password, gaining access to a device or interface control will require additionally generated code, face recognition, or biometrics data.

8 Secure remote access to on-premises resources

Since many employees access corporate infrastructures from outside the enterprises, ensuring secure remote access is essential. Best practices for remote access security include VPNs, multi-factor authentication, firewalls, and network segmentation. Network administrators can monitor traffic for suspicious activities through intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS).

9 Ensure regular updates

Enterprises can define suitable IoT device update mechanisms and ensure their regular execution. Firmware and software updates for IIoT devices and applications contain necessary bug fixes, eliminate vulnerabilities, and improve safety mechanisms.

10 Track & address legacy systems

To limit the attack surface and improve the security of the IIoT environment, manufacturers can establish mechanisms for identifying legacy devices and IIoT solutions that will no longer receive firmware and software updates. It is essential to either replace obsolete systems or ensure their adequate control and maintenance.

11 Conduct security risk assessment

While it’s impossible to ensure IIoT ecosystem protection against all cyber attacks, manufacturers can at least secure them from known threats. Regular risk assessments of IIoT infrastructure following the MITRE ATT&CK framework will help create and keep the threat models updated and proactively eliminate the smart factory’s security vulnerabilities.

12 Real-time security monitoring

Establishing real-time observation of the factory’s OT/IIoT systems with modern automated monitoring solutions enables administrators to take immediate actions to respond to threats, prevent unauthorized access to trade secrets, or avoid data leaks.

Actionable IIoT cybersecurity strategies

Apart from taking specific technology-related actions to secure the factory’s IIoT environments, organizations should consider adopting enterprise-wide strategies that help achieve high-level cyber security resilience.

People

  • People make organizations secure as much as technology does. Adopt a robust cybersecurity culture that will allow employees to align their values, attitudes, and knowledge with the enterprise’s approach to cybersecurity. 
  • Organize regular security training for non-tech-savvy employees to promote IIoT security awareness. Communicate cybersecurity importance across multiple departments, including administrative ones, even if they are not directly related to the IIoT ecosystem. 
  • Build a strong security team that will combine the necessary skills and knowledge to manage the IT and OT/IIoT environments of the smart factory. 
  • Ensure top-level accountability by appointing people responsible for the organization’s cybersecurity. Identify employees who can handle IIoT systems deployment and proper functioning and ensure necessary subordination mechanisms are in place. 
  • Establish a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) for OT/IIoT security projects to make sure that every employee sees the big picture and understands their part and contribution to the overall security.
Strengthen your IIoT cybersecurity

Strengthen your IIoT cybersecurity

The use cases of IIoT go far beyond simple manufacturing automation. Industrial IoT is applied for the predictive maintenance of enterprise equipment, quality monitoring of end-products and industrial conditions, supply chain optimization, production visibility, and asset location tracking. Therefore, securing an industrial IoT environment is one of the critical requirements for reliable, uninterrupted, and high-quality production processes. Company leaders should consider cybersecurity at all organizational levels by adopting security policies, implementing protection mechanisms, and educating people. If you are looking for a reliable partner to ensure top-notch protection of your IIoT systems, Itransition is ready to help.

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